Infant delivery method may change how the immune system responds to vaccines

Wednesday, 16 November, 2022

Infant delivery method may change how the immune system responds to vaccines

The type of delivery method at birth, either vaginal or by caesarean section, may be associated with changes to the infant gut microbiome and responsiveness to certain childhood vaccines, reports a Nature Communications paper.

The findings suggest that vaginal birthing resulted in a microbiota composition associated with an increase in a specific type of antibody response to two routine childhood vaccines in healthy babies compared to caesarean section.

Childhood vaccines aim to confer protection from a range of infectious diseases associated with childhood. How well these vaccines interact with and induce immune responses is critical to the level of protection generated in the infant. The microbiome is known to play a role in immune responses to vaccination. However, the relationship between early life and its effect on the intestinal microbiota composition and subsequent childhood vaccine responses remains poorly understood.

Debby Bogaert and colleagues examined 101 infants, born either vaginally or via caesarean section, and assessed their intestinal microbiome over the first 12 months of life. They also assessed antibody responses to two routine childhood vaccines directed against respiratory pathogens, the pneumococcal and meningococcal vaccines, at 12 and 18 months after birth.

The authors found that birth via vaginal delivery was associated with increased levels of Bifidobacterium and Escherichia coli in the gut microbiome in the first months of life, and higher IgG antibody responses against both vaccines. Importantly, they showed that the microbiome mediated the link between mode of delivery and the pneumococcal vaccine responses, compared to caesarean section.

The findings suggest that the mode of delivery at birth may result in alterations of the microbiome and the responsiveness of the immune system to childhood vaccines. However, how the difference in antibody levels correspond to the amount of immune protection remains to be addressed.

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