Coronavirus: Israel puts IVF, IUI and egg freezing treatments on hold

In general, Israeli women aren’t being told not to get pregnant, so why are infertility patients being instructed to avoid pregnancy?

Pregnancy (Illustrative) (photo credit: PXFUEL)
Pregnancy (Illustrative)
(photo credit: PXFUEL)
Getting pregnant is challenging for many – throw the novel coronavirus pandemic into the mix and right about now many reproductively challenged men and women are finding themselves in a tailspin.
Last month in Israel, new guidelines were issued postponing fertility treatments for non-emergency reasons indefinitely, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), intrauterine insemination and egg freezing, affecting thousands of women mid-process.
“When coronavirus started, the European guidelines recommended stopping all fertility treatments, whereas the American guidelines said that they don’t necessarily need to be stopped as long as the patient is educated about the fact that we don’t yet know the impact of the virus on the pregnant woman or on the fetus,” explains Prof. Einat Shalom Paz, director of the IVF unit at Hillel Yaffe Medical Center, a physician at Herzliya Medical Center and one of the doctors who worked on Israel’s current guidelines regarding fertility treatments. “At first, Israel followed the American guidelines, but as the pandemic progressed and became increasingly serious, the guidelines were changed and it was recommended that all cycles be stopped and new ones be canceled with the exception of fertility preservation for cancer patients.”
Given that fertility treatments are tremendously time-sensitive, Paz went on to detail that she had many painful conversations with patients.
“When it comes to getting and staying pregnant, age is a huge factor. A number of my patients are inching toward the end of their ovarian function and every month they lose might be their last chance to get pregnant. I know that the new regulations mean that some women will lose their chance for pregnancy, but the No. 1 oath we take as physicians is ‘do no harm,’ and so we had to take these steps, as we are not yet sure of coronavirus’s impact.”
But, in general, Israeli women aren’t being told not to get pregnant, so why are infertility patients being instructed to avoid pregnancy?
“People who are home and safely distancing themselves can do whatever they want – that’s very different than getting pregnant with the assistance of a doctor,” says Paz.
“If a woman gets pregnant and then miscarries, is that related to a bad embryo or related to coronavirus? We are not in a position to know what happens if a pregnant woman were to get coronavirus – how might it affect the pregnancy or the fetus? What we do know is that fever – one of the most common coronavirus symptoms – can pose a serious complication during pregnancy.”
On a positive note, Paz hopes that at the end of the month, fertility clinics will gradually start getting back to normal with lots of precautionary measures like masks and extra hand washing in place. She also underlines that, as of now, there is no reason to fear having tested positive for coronavirus – as long as you have recovered – should impede being able to move forward with treatments when they are deemed safe once again.