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Unvaccinated women denied fertility treatment in Scotland

10 January 2022
Appeared in BioNews 1127

Some IVF patients in Scotland have had their NHS treatment delayed because they are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Scotland's chief medical officer, Professor Sir Gregor Smith, advised on 7 January that fertility treatment be deferred for those not fully vaccinated:

'Following clinical concerns raised by the lead Clinicians in the NHS Assisted Conception Units in Scotland, consideration of the evidence of increased levels of morbidity and risk of severe illness amongst unvaccinated pregnant women... I recommend a temporary deferral of fertility treatment for patients who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19' wrote Professor Smith. 'We are now seeing an exponential rise in cases of Omicron, with increased transmissibility. As there is still uncertainty around the impact of this variant on pregnant women, and whilst the Delta variant continues to account for a significant number of cases in the UK, a more cautious approach to fertility treatment in unvaccinated women is now recommended.'

The Scottish Intensive Care Society Report indicated in October that of 89 pregnant women with COVID-19 who needed to receive critical care, 88 were not vaccinated. 

When the vaccines were first launched there were questions about whether pregnant women should receive them, but as more data has emerged it has become clear that the vaccines are safe in pregnancy and that pregnant women are at increased risk of serious illness from the virus. In December they were officially added to the priority group for vaccination in the UK. 

Jemma McDonald whose treatment was cancelled, said: 'I wanted to speak to doctors and nurses face-to-face about vaccinations to see what was best to do. At the start, the Government said we shouldn't get the vaccinations.'  

The deferral is temporary but an end date has not been set, as it will depend on risk of infection posed as the SARS-Cov-2 pandemic progresses. The chief medical officer's statement indicates that the deferral time should be added back onto these people's treatment windows so that patients do not become ineligible for treatment for other reasons, including age.

The statement does not specify whether partners who are receiving fertility treatment as part of a couple also need to be vaccinated, or only the patient hoping to become pregnant. 

Jackie Baillie, a Scottish Labour health spokesperson, said 'Of course I would encourage everyone to get vaccinated as the best protection against the virus, but the rules were confusing at the start and treating these women in this way is inhumane.'

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