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Frequently asked questions for patients on Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Updated 19 July 2021

We have produced these questions and answers to help to explain how clinics are resuming fertility treatment during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. If you have specific questions regarding your medical treatment or the reopening of your chosen fertility clinic, you will need to speak to your clinic directly.

We will update these FAQs as needed and we will keep you informed via our website, Twitter and Facebook.

What is the current situation?

From 19 July, England moves to Step 4 of the COVID-19 roadmap. While most restriction in England end, COVID-19 cases remain high and therefore clinics should continue to follow guidelines around the safe offering of treatment, continue to act carefully, and remain cautious.

Fertility clinics can continue to offer treatment across the UK, but we know that treatment at some clinics may continue to be affected by the pandemic. Due to staff shortages or self-isolation, some may have to reduce the numbers of patients they can treat or stop treatments temporarily.

We will continue to monitor national and devolved government advice as well as that of the professional bodies and will react in an appropriate manner, should the situation change at any time.

Please read the Coronavirus guidance for patients for our most recent updates.

How are clinics keeping patients safe?

Our priority and that of the clinics is the safety of patients, their eggs, sperm and embryos and of clinic staff.

As the national guidance relating to COVID related restrictions change on 19 July 2021, centres may implement their own policies and different decisions may be made at a clinic level based on local circumstances about any safety measures they have in place, for example of social distancing and mask-wearing.

Is it safe to take the COVID-19 vaccine if I am currently or planning to have fertility treatment, or I am already pregnant?

The HFEA cannot give any specific advice on vaccination and you should discuss your situation with your clinic who are best placed to advise you.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that pregnant women should be offered the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time as the rest of the population, based on their age and clinical risk group.

The JVCI advises that it’s preferable for pregnant women in the UK to be offered the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines where available. There is no evidence to suggest that other vaccines are unsafe for pregnant women, but more research is needed.

Further UK based information can be found from the professional bodies:

Is it safe to take the COVID-19 vaccine if I am currently, or planning to donate my eggs or sperm?

Yes, it is safe. Guidance from the Joint UK Blood Transfusion and Tissue Transplantation Services Professional Advisory Committee (JPAC) states that you must allow at least seven days from your most recent vaccination prior to donating eggs or sperm. If you feel unwell after the vaccination, you must not donate for seven days after your symptoms have improved.

Do I need to be tested for COVID-19 prior to treatment?

Some clinics may choose to include testing for COVID-19 for all patients having treatment including patients who are asymptomatic. The current guidance (as of 19 April 2021) from the BFS/ARCS is that before starting treatment, consideration should be given to antigen testing (or an equivalent test if available, validated and approved. We have not stated clinics must test all patients as it is not a current recommendation made by Government. If you’d like more information on COVID-19 testing, please refer to the Government guidance which states that anyone with symptoms can get a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID19 test, whatever their age. Those with no symptoms can order rapid lateral flow home test kits online.

Can my partner attend fertility appointments?

As the national guidance relating to COVID related restrictions change on 19 July 2021, centres may implement their own policies and different decisions may be made at a clinic level based on local circumstances about any measures they have in place, for example, when allowing partners to attend appointments.

The current guidance (as of 19 April 2021) from The Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists (ARCS) and the British Fertility Society (BFS) says that centres should minimise the number of accompanying persons, and should carry out risk assessments to ensure the attendance of a partner at appointments is safe.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have introduced a framework to allow partners to be able to attend maternity services in England, including fertility treatments. They recommend using a stepwise approach, following a documented risk assessment, so you can make any necessary changes before relaxing any current approaches you may have in place. Your policies on permitting access to partners should be regularly reviewed, be tailored to your local context and take account of current risks and government policy

NHS guidance says that further to a risk assessment, women should have access to support from a person of her choosing at all stages of her maternity journey and that all trusts should facilitate this as quickly as possible.

What are the risks of COVID-19 and pregnancy?

Patients may be anxious about coronavirus infection and its potential effects on pregnancy. Present experience is limited and does not indicate that the severity of infection is any worse in pregnancy. At this stage, there is no evidence of an increased risk of foetal anomalies or adverse pregnancy complications. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have provided guidance about the risks of the impact of COVID-19 on pregnancy. 

Clinics should counsel patients on the potential risks, taking into account the patient’s individual clinical situation and risk profile, as well as the likely persistence of the virus in the local community in the medium term. Patients need to actively consent to having treatment while there is a risk of contracting COVID-19 either during treatment or, if successful, during pregnancy.

Can my clinic charge for a COVID-19 test and/or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?

Some clinics may choose to include testing for COVID-19 as part of their treatment strategy for all patients having treatment, including those who are asymptomatic. Our regulatory remit does not include the ability to stop clinics charging for these tests or PPE, but we expect patients to be treated fairly and safely at all times.

The Government guidance states that anyone with symptoms can get a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID19 test, whatever their age. Those with no symptoms can order rapid lateral flow home test kits online.

Some clinics may also require patients to use PPE. We know that clinics have to cover their costs which is acceptable, but we expect clinics to charge patients a fair price for any PPE they are required to use.

Can clinics continue to offer immunosuppressive treatments?

Immunosuppressive treatments are not recommended because they are of unproven benefit and carry risks (some of which are serious). They are marked as ‘red’ on our traffic light system. There remains an additional risk in using such treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic. These treatments make patients more susceptible to the virus and put them at high risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19.

The professional advice from the British Fertility Society, the Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is that the use of empirical treatments of uncertain efficacy and safety, including immunosuppressive treatments, should be avoided. There is insufficient evidence of benefit from these treatments, and they may increase the risk of severe infection.

People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase the risk of infection are considered clinically extremely vulnerable according to the most recent UK government guidance.

Our advice remains that immunosuppressive treatments should not be offered as there is no evidence that these are effective. For more information please see our add-ons page here.

My clinic is not responding to me. What can I do?

Many clinics were operating with reduced staffing levels (where employees may have been redeployed, furloughed or are unwell). Some clinics may be operating on a reduced service and therefore may take longer to reply than usual.

We are unable to answer medical questions or questions related to your specific treatment. If your question is related to either of these, you will need to wait for a response from your clinic.

Will I be refunded if my treatment is cancelled or postponed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, for example if patients or staff need to self-isolate?

Before you begin treatment, consumer protection law states that clinics should explain in writing the circumstances in which treatment may be cancelled or postponed, and explain your rights and obligations should treatment be cancelled or postponed e.g. whether you are entitled to a refund of any prepayments.

The CMA has published guidance which sets out its views in relation to cancellations and refunds within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This explains the circumstances in which the CMA would expect a consumer to be offered a full refund where no services are provided as a result of COVID-19. This guidance also explains that in circumstances where a patient has already received some services they have paid for in advance, that they would be entitled to a refund of the services not already provided.

COVID has meant I cannot travel abroad for treatment. Where can I find information about importing my gametes or embryos from abroad?

General information about importing or exporting gametes (eggs and sperm) and embryos can be found on our website here.

We’re nearing the 10-year storage limit for our eggs/sperm/embryos. Will we still be able to use them if we don’t have treatment before our storage expires?

The Government has confirmed that the current 10-year storage limit for embryos and gametes will be extended by two years. This means that patients who have stored sperm, eggs or embryos that are reaching the 10-year storage limit will not be penalised by the current suspension of fertility treatment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you think you may be eligible for this extension, we would advise that you contact the centre where your gametes or embryos are being stored.

Can I travel overseas for fertility treatment during lockdown?

While we cannot advise on individual situations, we recommend reading the government advice available here, and the guidance about travelling overseas during the COVID-19 pandemic available here.

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Review date: 23 July 2023