Leading fertility specialists are urging women having IVF to get vaccinated citing overwhelming evidence that the vaccine is safe for those trying to conceive.
IVF doctors told i “mixed messages” and a lack of public messaging at the start of the vaccine rollout had caused concern and anxiety for some patients hoping to get pregnant.
The British Fertility Society (BFS) and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) say women having IVF should get vaccinated, with research showing that vaccines do not affect fertility or ovarian reserve.
One of the largest studies into fertility and IVF has found no significant differences in response to ovarian stimulation, egg quality, embryo development, or pregnancy outcomes in vaccinated patients.
In the study of more than 2,000 women undergoing IVF or fertility treatment, published last week, researchers in New York compared rates of fertilisation, pregnancy, and early miscarriage in patients who had received two doses of Pfizer or Moderna.
Last month, a decision by the Scottish Government to delay IVF services for unvaccinated women last month was branded “inhumane” with the policy to be reviewed this month.
Dr Raj Mathur, chair of the BFS, told i: “We know the Covid vaccine is safe for people having IVF treatment. Initially, we had very few patients we could base this on, but now there are three or four studies from different countries which show that people who have the vaccine had a similar outcome of treatment to people who were unvaccinated.
“People are asking, and legitimately asking. The problem was there was initially very mixed messages from the authorities when the vaccine came in.
“They said to women if you are trying to conceive you shouldn’t conceive for three months, which was completely unjustified.
“At that time we didn’t know that catching Covid in pregnancy was especially bad news. As soon as that became obvious it became clear that by preventing them from getting the vaccine we were actually causing more harm than good.
“I think those initial mixed messages quite understandably made people a bit anxious about this – plus of course there is a huge amount of misinformation.”
He added: “The majority of pregnant women who have got seriously ill, and some have even died, have been unvaccinated.”
Last month, the Scottish Government sparked anger after suspending fertility services for women who are not fully vaccinated over concerns about the impact of Covid on pregnant women who are not double jabbed and over rising cases.
The recommendation is due to be reviewed this month but unvaccinated women hoping to conceive have hit out at the decision.
Georgia and Michaela Gaffney, from Dundee, Scotland, have been trying for a baby for five years after being placed on the waiting list for IVF in 2017. They say they are not vaccinated because a nurse advised them not to get jabbed in March last year.
Their hopes for a child are “100% on hold” after they were told on a phone call that Michaela’s NHS fertility treatment was being suspended just before Christmas because they are not vaccinated.
Georgia, 29, told i: “We were just about to stop the medication and go to the egg retrieval and they said no more treatment, none.
“We were in shock. If we were advised to do something at the start why let us get so far then change it?
“It is not that we are against vaccines at all, we are just sticking with the guidance we were given.
“I think it is so wrong. It is a choice and it feels like we are being penalised for having our choice, our reasons.”
The couple said they have not been vaccinated due to concerns after Michaela, 32, lost a child an hour after giving birth in 2014 and after being advised by a nurse against having their jabs around March last year.
Georgia said: “It wasn’t until that phone call that was the first time it was mentioned. All the appointments we had in between surely if it was so important someone would have mentioned it?
“It is to do with choice. Our choice is not to have it for the safety of my wife and our unborn child and then we will get the vaccines.
“We have probably decided not to. After the nurse was like, ‘Don’t get the vaccine’, that kind of sticks in your head.”
An NHS Tayside spokesperson said anyone whose treatment is deferred will be treated once fully vaccinated or boosted, or once the Scottish Government decision is reversed.
Professor Yacoub Khalaf, a specialist in assisted conception, said anxieties for some couples or women were “generally speaking, understandable”.
He told i: “However, there have been a series of guidelines from different respectable, professional bodies – both in the UK and abroad – reassuring that there is no justification for postponing vaccination in order to get pregnant or pregnancy in order to get vaccinated.
“It is accepted that the only thing that is risky is Covid itself, not the vaccine.
“Most patients it comes up: ‘I’m expected to have my period next week, but my booster dose is scheduled for tomorrow do you think we should postpone?’
“And the answer is no. There is no evidence for changing the plan because you are having a vaccine.”
Dr Cesar Diaz-Garcia, Medical Director of IVF clinic IVI London, said that “very often” patients had asked if they should delay the jab due to concerns over how it could impact fertility.
He told i: “Again, motivated by different information that, I wouldn’t say were misleading, but maybe weren’t very well advertised or not communicated in a clear way to the general population.
“It is up to us as doctors and healthcare professionals to let people understand that the scientific evidence behind the use of the vaccine is quite reassuring when it comes to ovarian reserve.
“Many women are concerned it could damage their ovarian reserve, there is more and more data suggesting that is not the case.”
However, he said he “hadn’t seen a single” patient that ended up postponing treatment due to concerns over vaccination, with the overwhelming majority getting jabbed.
Prof Diaz-Garcia added: “I always recommend my patients go to the websites of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists the British Fertility Society, where ourselves as the medical community have already digested the information and show it in a very plain way to the patient so they can understand it easily.
“I have started to see more and more people saying, ‘I am going to have the booster, should I postpone the transfer, should I postpone the stimulation?’ Obviously our answer is “just have it”.”