COVID-19 lockdowns and the consequent restrictions on our life are difficult for everyone, but they are extremely exasperating for people who are facing IVF delays due to Coronavirus concerns. Anyone who understands infertility, would know that time is precious in IVF treatments and any delay can significantly lower your chances of conceiving.
Fertility clinics have shut their doors amid world-wide lockdowns, and patients seeking IVF have been left in limbo.
Fertility groups call for postponing all IVF cycles
Following the recommendations issued by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, women in North America have had to postpone their appointments indefinitely. Patients, especially those who are in their late 30s and 40s, are distressed and concerned.
While McDonald’s and Starbucks continue to be offered as the government considers them “essential services,” fertility treatments, which are so important for people, have been banned, they complain.
Similarly, in the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), has asked private IVF clinics and the NHS to suspend all IVF treatments for the time being. New cycles have been called off and patients desperately wanting babies are left clueless as they have no idea when they’d be able to pursue these treatments now.
Similar guidelines have been issued by fertility groups in Europe and Canada, as the authorities are concerned, not just about the unknown impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy and babies to be born, but also regarding social distancing in times like these. Besides, they are trying to ease the demand on already overburdened healthcare systems.
Petition against IVF delays due to Coronavirus
Dr. Beverly Reed, a fertility specialist at IVFMD, told the NPR that her patients were extremely upset with the cancellation of their IVF cycles.
“One of the questions from my patients was, ‘Does coronavirus cause birth defects? Is that why we are being told we can’t have treatment’” she said. “And I said…we don’t know for sure at this point, but the early data we have does not seem to show any increased risk for birth defects.”
They also questioned that while females conceiving naturally are not being told to hold off their pregnancies, why are IVF conceptions being stopped?
“‘Are all American women being told not to get pregnant right now?’ I said, ‘Well, no.’ And that’s when they said, ‘Why am I being told I can’t get pregnant right now?’ And I said, ‘You know what? That’s a really good question.’”
Dr. Reed seems to agree with the patients as she decided to circulate a petition challenging the ASRM guidelines for delaying fertility treatments until COVID 19 is controlled. Over 20,000 people have signed it so far.
She argues that patients with impaired fertility, singles, and same-sex couples already have lesser chances of conceiving and by the time the virus clears completely, they might have lost their only chance to conceive.
The patients understand the risks and it should be upto them if they want to carry on with the treatment still, she said.
“I have patients who are willing to take that risk — who say, yes, I understand it may be dangerous, but I’m OK with that because I still want to try to build my family,” said Reed. “And if I don’t get to do it now, I may never get to do it.”
Stopped in the middle of IVF
While patients who already had their embryos frozen shouldn’t have much reason to worry as they can go back for embryo transfer a couple of months down the line, without any significant impact on the treatment outcome.
The ones who have yet to start their cycles are naturally worried if this delay might thwart their chances of having successful IVF treatment, but hopefully the wait won’t be long. In the meantime, you can practice these tips to improve your egg quality and enhance your sperm to maximize your chances of success at IVF, whenever it is allowed again.
The worst hit were patients whose cycles were already underway. While some doctors completed their ovum pick-up and egg fertilization before closing down the clinics, in other cases they just had to abandon the treatment midway.
Angie from Vancouver, British Columbia had been injecting herself with ovarian stimulation drugs for five days, when she received a call saying her treatment has to be suspended because the clinic was temporarily closing down amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was really angry,” she told NBC. “I burst into tears. I was shaking and sobbing uncontrollably.”
The 36-year-old then requested the clinic to do an ultrasound and check her ovaries, which had been partially stimulated, but they refused. She’d already spent $3,000 on the medicines and called it “an emotional and financial loss.”
Why did IVF clinics shut down for COVID?
It wasn’t just the uncertainty over the effect of COVID-19 on pregnancy but the concerns of viral transmission that prompted various organizations to call closure of IVF clinics.
Dr. Eve Feinberg, a member of the team that put out those recommendations, told the NPR that they had to shut the clinics considering the potential spread of coronavirus and public health concerns.
“Data really has shown from other widespread pandemics that sheltering in place is the most effective strategy for suppression of new transmission,” said Feinberg, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University and president of the Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility.
“If we were to have patients staying at home in the large field of infertility, collectively we can make a huge difference in risk of new transmission.”
Obviously, when you visit an IVF clinic over several weeks, you come in contact with various doctors, nurses, technicians, and other clinic staff, which raises your possibility of catching the infection and also widens your range of transmitting it.
Whereas “when you’re trying to get pregnant naturally,” she said, “you typically have sexual intercourse with one person and you have the risk of exposing [only] one person.”
So, it makes sense that IVF clinics had to be closed while there is no restriction on natural pregnancies.
Experts are displeased about the clinics that defy the recommendations and continue to function. “I think it’s going to prolong the [pandemic]…and I think anyone who’s continuing to run business as usual… ultimately is going to be doing a disservice in that this is a community effort, this is a country effort…and we all need to adhere to the same public health standards,” Feinberg said.
Difficult but imperative
While most patients are disappointed due to IVF delays due to Coronavirus, many do understand that there isn’t any better way around it. If the IVF clinics had continued to function as before, they would be putting not just their staff members and patients, but also their families and your families at risk.
It is difficult for the doctors too and the hardest part, they say, is not having any concrete answer for patients who ask, ‘When can we start again?’
Almost all of our partner clinics across Asia, Europe, and North America have decided to act with caution and follow the instructions to temporarily suspend operations for the greater good of everyone.
The most effective way to fight this disease is to maintain social distancing; the sooner we defeat this, the sooner we can resume our normal lives, including IVFs and pregnancies.