Answers to Questions about the Coronavirus Pandemic
and the Banking of Cord Blood and Birthing Tissues

Answers to Questions about Banking during Coronavirus

Issued:  April 27, 2020

Medical scientists are learning more every day about the coronavirus. Among the questions about the pandemic and the COVID-19 disease are some pertaining to umbilical cord blood and perinatal tissues.

The Cord Blood Association (CBA) has prepared known answers for commonly asked questions. The association represents cord blood and perinatal research investigators, clinicians and banking personnel around the world.

Are the cord blood units previously stored in public and private banks safe from contamination?

The bag in which a cord blood unit is frozen must pass container integrity testing per FDA regulations. The bag is overwrapped with a second bag (like a “seal-a-meal”) to provide an extra layer of covering. The unit is then frozen and stored under liquid nitrogen, a way to maintain the cells at an ultra-cold temperature. In addition, to further minimize the risk of potentially contaminating organisms leaking from the cord blood unit bag after freezing, donor screening tests are performed on the infant donor’s mother around the time of donation. Donor screening questionnaires are also completed by the mother and reviewed at the bank to further avoid collection of a potentially contaminated unit. 

Can COVID-19 be transmitted from a pregnant mother to her fetus during pregnancy?

There are reports of over 100 mothers who contracted COVID-19 in the last few weeks of their pregnancy. The majority of these babies were born healthy without evidence of COVID-19 after extensive testing. Three babies did develop mild signs of COVID-19 in the week after birth but all recovered in the first two weeks of life. Limited tests of breast milk in COVID-19 infected mothers did not detect the virus in breast milk produced by these mothers.

Can COVID-19 be passed to a patient in a cord blood transplant?

There are no known reports of coronavirus transmission in a transplant. In fact, there has never been a documented case in which any kind of respiratory virus has been transmitted to a patient by implantation, transplantation, infusion or other transfer of cells or tissues.  

Is it safe to bank cord blood or perinatal tissues when giving birth during the current pandemic?

Yes.  Even in normal times, mothers are routinely tested and screened to determine if they might have any disease that would affect the collection of their baby’s cord blood or perinatal tissues. Screening through medical histories for risk of COVID-19 has also been implemented by all banks.

Are banking services available during the current pandemic?

Cord blood banks are essential services that are continuing to operate during social distancing and shelter-in-place orders. Yet some individual banks may be experiencing staffing and economic impacts similar to other organizations and businesses. To know what services are currently available, parents should talk to their health care provider or the hospital where they expect delivery of their baby.

Is cord blood a possible alternative in bone marrow transplants if a live donor is not available.

Yes, banked unrelated cord blood has been used for many patients whose adult donors are unavailable, which can easily happen during the coronavirus pandemic. A donor may not be available because of exposure to the virus or lack of a functioning center for donation due to repurposing of medical facilities to care for COVID-19 patients.

Because cord blood units are safe and quickly available, the major transplant donor registries are recommending that a back-up cord blood unit be identified for all patients undergoing workup for blood or marrow transplant.

Might cord blood play a role in the search for a COVID-19 treatment or vaccine?

That’s a possibility, but as yet there is no clear answer to the question. Cord blood, cord tissue and placenta tissue are being studied to determine whether they can be used in the manufacture of cell therapies to fight the COVID-19 virus.

For example, preliminary studies are showing that a cell manufactured from these tissues called mesenchymal stromal cells (MSC) could help patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which often is a fatal complication of COVID-19. Preliminary data in testing with patients are encouraging, and clinical trials are under way in Asia, Europe and the United States.

Where is more information about pregnancy during the coronavirus pandemic?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published answers to questions expecting parents may have about pregnancy and breastfeeding during the coronavirus pandemic. 

 Additional guidelines for pregnancy during the coronavirus pandemic are offered by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).