Scientific Papers

In Utero Exposure to Maternal COVID-19 Vaccination and Offspring Neurodevelopment at 12 and 18 Months


Importance: Uptake of COVID-19 vaccines among pregnant individuals was hampered by safety concerns around potential risks to unborn children. Data clarifying early neurodevelopmental outcomes of offspring exposed to COVID-19 vaccination in utero are lacking.

Objective: To determine whether in utero exposure to maternal COVID-19 vaccination was associated with differences in scores on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire, third edition (ASQ-3), at 12 and 18 months of age.

Design, setting, and participants: This prospective cohort study, Assessing the Safety of Pregnancy During the Coronavirus Pandemic (ASPIRE), enrolled pregnant participants from May 2020 to August 2021; follow-up of children from these pregnancies is ongoing. Participants, which included pregnant individuals and their offspring from all 50 states, self-enrolled online. Study activities were performed remotely.

Exposure: In utero exposure of the fetus to maternal COVID-19 vaccination during pregnancy was compared with those unexposed.

Main outcomes and measures: Neurodevelopmental scores on validated ASQ-3, completed by birth mothers at 12 and 18 months. A score below the established cutoff in any of 5 subdomains (communication, gross motor, fine motor, problem solving, social skills) constituted an abnormal screen for developmental delay.

Results: A total of 2487 pregnant individuals (mean [SD] age, 33.3 [4.2] years) enrolled at less than 10 weeks' gestation and completed research activities, yielding a total of 2261 and 1940 infants aged 12 and 18 months, respectively, with neurodevelopmental assessments. In crude analyses, 471 of 1541 exposed infants (30.6%) screened abnormally for developmental delay at 12 months vs 203 of 720 unexposed infants (28.2%; χ2 = 1.32; P = .25); the corresponding prevalences at 18 months were 262 of 1301 (20.1%) vs 148 of 639 (23.2%), respectively (χ2 = 2.35; P = .13). In multivariable mixed-effects logistic regression models adjusting for maternal age, race, ethnicity, education, income, maternal depression, and anxiety, no difference in risk for abnormal ASQ-3 screens was observed at either time point (12 months: adjusted risk ratio [aRR], 1.14; 95% CI, 0.97-1.33; 18 months: aRR, 0.88; 95% CI, 0.72-1.07). Further adjustment for preterm birth and infant sex did not affect results (12 months: aRR, 1.16; 95% CI, 0.98-1.36; 18 months: aRR, 0.87; 95% CI, 0.71-1.07).

Conclusions and relevance: Results of this cohort study suggest that COVID-19 vaccination was safe during pregnancy from the perspective of infant neurodevelopment to 18 months of age. Additional longer-term research should be conducted to corroborate these findings and buttress clinical guidance with a strong evidence base.