COVID-19: Press pause on assisted reproduction?


The SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus has dramatically altered specialty practice across the board, including the practice of infertility treatment. Reproductive medicine societies recommend suspending new infertility treatment cycles during this time. Women and couples who have already invested time and money in their treatment may be understandably frustrated and worried about the impact of this enforced – and indefinite – delay on their chances of conceiving. This puts the physician, who can’t even guarantee when treatment can resume, in the difficult position of trying to balance the patient’s needs with expert recommendations and government mandates.

Infertility Care During COVID-19

European and American reproductive medicine societies have both offered guidelines regarding infertility care during the pandemic. Both recommend shifting to the use of telehealth rather than in-person visits when possible for initial consultations and follow-up discussions.

With respect to infertility treatments during the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) advises the following:

  • Suspend initiation of new treatment cycles, including ovulation induction; intrauterine insemination; and in vitro fertilization, including retrievals and frozen embryo transfers, and suspend nonurgent gamete cryopreservation.
  • Strongly consider cancellation of all embryo transfers, whether fresh or frozen.
  • Continue to care for patients who are currently “in cycle” or who require urgent stimulation and cryopreservation.
  • Suspend elective surgeries and nonurgent diagnostic procedures.

In most countries, including the United States, all healthcare providers have been asked to put elective and nonurgent medical interventions on hold to ensure that personal protective equipment and other resources are available for the management of patients with COVID-19.

Infertility is a disease and, as such, not all infertility care should be considered elective. Still, for most patients, the overall chances of conceiving will not be compromised by a short delay (1-3 months) in treatment. A longer wait could have more impact on older patients or those who already have reduced ovarian reserve, but these are not indications for urgent fertility treatment.

There are clearly some cases in which infertility treatment cannot be delayed: for example, fertility preservation (oocyte or embryo vitrification) for patients who need to undergo immediate gonadotoxic oncology treatment. These patients need to be able to freeze oocytes/embryos so that later on, they have the option of having a family.

Another situation that could require new infertility treatment is a woman who needs urgent surgery for a condition such as severe symptomatic endometriosis causing ureteral or bowel stenosis/obstruction. Because the surgery itself can compromise fertility, the patient may elect to undergo oocyte embryo cryopreservation or ovarian tissue cryopreservation before the surgical procedure.

Pregnancy and COVID-19

As a precautionary measure during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is recommended that planned pregnancy be avoided. The available data on the risks presented by planning a pregnancy during the COVID pandemic are reassuring but limited.

Pregnancy itself has not been shown to alter the course of COVID-19, and most affected pregnant women will experience only mild or moderate flulike symptoms. Patients with cardiovascular or metabolic comorbidities or those requiring immunosuppressants are expected to be at increased risk for more severe forms of the infection. Currently, no strong evidence suggests a higher risk for miscarriage, stillbirth, or adverse neonatal outcomes with maternal COVID-19 infection.

A report based on 38 cases found no evidence for vertical transmission from mother to fetus, and all neonatal specimens (placental tissue) tested negative for the virus. Moreover, no maternal deaths were reported among these 38 infected women. Another study of 11 infected pregnant women likewise found no increased risk for perinatal morbidity or mortality.

On the other hand, a recent article on the perinatal outcomes of 33 neonates born to mothers with confirmed COVID-19 reported three cases of neonatal COVID-19 as a result of possible vertical transmission. In two cases, symptoms were mild and initial positive coronavirus test results turned negative within a few days. The third case – a pregnancy delivered by emergency cesarean section at 31 weeks for fetal distress – was complicated by bacterial sepsis, thrombocytopenia, and coagulopathy, but once again, the initially positive coronavirus test was negative by day 7.

No neonatal deaths were reported in these 33 cases. The authors could not rule out the possibility of vertical transmission in the three COVID-positive newborns because strict infection control measures were implemented during the care of the patients.


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