COVID-19 and Your Fertility

By Gynii Me

UPDATE (01/05/2020): the HFEA has announced that in an effort to restart fertility treatment as soon as is safe, UK fertility clinics can apply to reopen in the week starting May 11th. Click here for tips on preparing yourself to resume treatment.

UPDATE (27/04/2020): the government has announced that all currently frozen embryos, eggs and sperm in UK IVF clinics will have their storage time extended for 2 years. Normally, frozen embryos and gametes in the UK have a legal storage limit of 10 years. This measure is being put in place to help alleviate the unfair effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on patients who have had their treatment cancelled despite approaching the standard 10-year limit.


Journey information for those who are planning for a family

For many of us on our fertility journey, COVID-19 has thrown a massive spanner in the works. As part of the government’s programme of trying to stem the virus and to keep people safe, the fertility regulator in the UK (The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, or HFEA) has instructed that all fertility treatment must be stopped by Wednesday, April 15th


What does this mean for those seeking help to start a family?

The situation is changing very quickly and the tidal wave of news and information can be overwhelming. We all have many questions – and concerns - in our head. To help understanding, we have gathered what is currently known* about the virus and what lockdown is likely to mean for those planning fertility treatment.

*We’ll keep the information on this page updated as the situation unfolds and more information becomes available.


What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 FERTILITY

Image by Fusion Medical Animation

Some of the current terminology can be confusing, but COVID-19 is the code-name given to this new infectious, respiratory disease. “COVID” is short for coronavirus disease and “19” indicates it was first detected in 2019.

COVID-19 is caused by a virus with the scientific name severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (or known by the shorter name, SARS-CoV-2).

Viruses are present in the environment and need a host body – animal or human – to survive. Outside the body, viruses are killed by soap; which is why it is important to wash your hands and disinfect surfaces, and to “catch” coughs and sneezes, to help to stop the spread of the virus.

Once a virus enters the body, it is up to the immune system to kill it. Viruses like SARS-Cov-2 enter the host through the mouth, nose, eyes, or breaks in the skin, which is why it is important to keep your distance. Once inside the body, they attack the cells lining the respiratory system causing symptoms including: fever, a persistent dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing.

Whilst most healthy people are able to fight off the infection with rest at home, there are high-risk groups such as the elderly and people with weakened immune systems who are more susceptible to severe infections and are unable to fight off the virus as easily.


How will the lockdown affect my fertility treatment?

On March 23rd, the HFEA ordered all fertility treatment must stop by Wednesday, 15th April. This means that any treatment you had planned, or were undergoing, will need to be cancelled or postponed by this date. For the time being, no new treatment can start after 15th April


Why is fertility treatment being postponed?

The HFEA has asked clinics to stop fertility treatment because of a number of reasons, including:

  • The need to limit the spread of COVID-19 by cancelling face-to-face appointments
  • Reducing the risk of placing additional pressures on the NHS as a result of potential problems or adverse reactions to patients having fertility treatment
  • Managing staffing limitations, as a result of fertility staff illness and self-isolation, or the need to redeploy staff to help in other areas of the NHS
  • Limited supplies of stocks of PPE (protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, visors, etc)
  • The unknown effects of COVID-19 on fertility and egg or embryo implantation

Fertility experts in China shared with Gynii Me how they handled fertility treatment during their lockdown period. Similarly to the approach taken by the UK fertility sector, all patients in affected areas of China were advised to suspend treatment or freeze their embryos due to the lack of information on how the virus may affect implantation and pregnancy outcomes.


When will IVF clinics reopen?

The HFEA has stated that the aim is “for the UK fertility sector to restart as soon as possible”. However, it is not currently known when fertility treatment will restart, with the pause on treatment likely to remain until the outbreak comes under control in the UK.

We will provide an update on plans for re-opening fertility clinics as soon as this information becomes available.


How will my treatment and funding be affected if I exceed treatment age limits as a result of my treatment being cancelled?

The HFEA has not yet addressed the implications of the treatment freeze for those of us who will exceed the age limits for funding and treatment during the current lockdown.

The uncertainty of the situation is distressing for many of us who feel that we are running out of time. Many are calling for the government to provide assurance that appropriate allowances are made for those who may be unfairly impacted as a result of the lockdown.

In the meantime, individual clinics are providing support, such as free embryo storage and treatment plan extensions, to help their patients during this difficult time. Please contact your clinic to find out what measures you may benefit from if your treatment has been postponed.


What can I do while I wait for fertility treatment to restart?

To have your fertility treatment put on pause is understandably very stressful. However, this time, whilst worrying and unwelcome, can give us the opportunity to take a break from procedures which can be physically, mentally and emotionally draining.

Now is a good time to reach out to your support network and to return to the activities you may have placed on hold while planning or undergoing treatment.

As always, your fertility health will benefit from good overall health. Take measures to keep yourself safe from the virus and help yourself by eating healthily, getting a good night’s sleep and keeping your stress levels low.

It is important to always make sure you talk to someone and reach out to your support network if you are feeling anxious and/or unhappy.


Where can I access support and counselling?

This is undoubtedly a very frustrating time for those who have already been trying to conceive for a while. We encourage you to access our free services during this time for information, mentoring and emotional support.

Ensure that you seek emotional support from sources such as:

  • Your fertility clinic, which may offer telephone counselling services
  • The Fertility Network UK support line, via telephone +44 (0)121 323 5025 or email support@fertilitynetworkuk.org (click here for more information on the Fertility Network’s support line)

The British Infertility Counselling Association (BICA) has a “Find a Counsellor” service, to help put you in touch with someone to talk to.

Click here for the British Infertility Counselling Association’s (BICA) “Find a Counsellor” service.

Please let us know if you think any content on this site is factually incorrect.

This article was last updated on: 14 April, 2020.