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Studies gauge toll of pausing fertility treatment during pandemic



More than 60% of patients at a center for reproductive medicine in Utah who had fertility treatments canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic opted to resume treatment once the suspension was lifted about 7 weeks later.

At another fertility center in New York, a survey found that 96% of respondents who had a cycle canceled because of the pandemic found it upsetting, and 22% found it extremely upsetting, with extremely upsetting defined as equivalent to the loss of a child.

The indefinite time frame for resuming treatment when the New York survey was conducted may have been a major source of distress for patients, one of the researchers said at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s 2020 annual meeting, held virtually this year.

“They don’t know when they might have that chance again,” said Jenna M. Turocy, MD, of Columbia University Fertility Center, New York.

COVID-19 guidelines published by ASRM on March 17 recommended the suspension of new treatment cycles, including ovulation induction, intrauterine inseminations, and in vitro fertilization (IVF).

An ASRM COVID-19 task force has since supported “the measured resumption of fertility care following the easing of restrictions,” said Paul C. Lin, MD, president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology and a member of the task force.

“Over the past several months, significant knowledge has been gained regarding the COVID-19 virus and its impact on patients and the medical system,” he said in a news release about the two studies that assessed the pandemic’s effects.

Certain precautions remain. “It has become clear that we will need to be practicing COVID-19 protocols at least until an effective and safe vaccine or broadly effective treatment becomes widely available,” Dr. Lin said.

Desire to proceed during a pandemic

The Utah Center for Reproductive Medicine on March 15 suspended new IVF cycles and frozen embryo transfers. The center continued to offer IVF cycles for oncofertility patients on an urgent basis.

In early May, patients whose cycles had been suspended had the option to receive treatment.

“Upon reopening, every patient received standardized counseling from their primary IVF physician,” Lauren Verrilli, MD, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility fellow at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, said at the virtual meeting.

Doctors explained that much remained unknown about COVID-19 in pregnancy, and that it was unclear whether the clinic would need to shut down again. In addition, patients had to undergo COVID-19 testing.

To identify factors associated with proceeding with treatment after the suspension, the researchers compared patients who resumed treatment with patients who did not.

Their analysis included 278 patients who had planned an IVF cycle or frozen embryo transfer (FET) prior to the shutdown. The researchers examined factors such as age, parity, anti-Müllerian hormone, antral follicle count, history of prior IVF cycles or FET, number of frozen blastocysts, gamete source, and use of a gestational carrier.

In all, 62% of patients opted to receive treatment once restrictions were lifted, including 69 of the 133 (52%) patients with planned fresh cycles and 104 of the 145 (72%) patients with planned FET cycles.

Among those with planned fresh cycles, those who opted to resume treatment tended to be older than those who did not resume treatment, with a median age of 37 years versus 35 years, but the difference was not statistically significant.

Among patients with planned FET cycles, those who did not resume treatment were more likely to have a gestational carrier, compared with those who resumed treatment (7% vs. 1%). In some cases, gestational carriers lived in another state and the pandemic complicated travel arrangements, which contributed to delays, Dr. Verrilli said.

The analysis did not include information about income or socioeconomic status, which may play a role in patients’ decisions, Dr. Verrilli said.


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