It is to be expected that the pandemic has raised new concerns for those with health problems. People are increasingly avoiding visiting health facilities in fear they may encounter others that carry the virus and end up infected. Many hospitals around the world and their staff have also become overwhelmed by the need to care for Covid-19 patients. So much so that numerous elective procedures have been repeatedly postponed.
In vitro fertilisation (IVF) is an assisted reproductive technology whose procedures can thankfully be carried out at fertility clinics without the need to visit the main hospital. Some clinics around the world may however still postpone these procedures due to a lack of staff.
For many couples and even doctors, one of the key concerns lies in Covid-19 vaccines. Governments and medical bodies are doing much to encourage the population to take up approved vaccines. For those with fertility and other reproductive problems, the concern is whether these vaccinations will have an impact on their fertility, ability to successfully undergo IVF treatment, and pregnancy.
Fertility and Vaccination
Approved Covid-19 vaccines have not been found to have any effect on male or female fertility. Do not avoid taking the vaccine if you are already trying to actively get pregnant. They are recommended by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), besides many other medical bodies. Both biological parents are advised to get vaccinated whether they are planning to get pregnant now or in the future. Even for partners that may not be biologically involved, getting the vaccine is still recommended for their protection and that of the household.
While there was some confusion when the vaccines were first rolled out as to their impact on fertility, broader studies have now found that vaccines do not cause infertility nor harm chances of conceiving.
Many medical organisations do however recommend waiting to undergo IVF treatments for a few days after having been vaccinated with the final dose. This is to give the immune response enough time to settle before undertaking other medical interventions. This applies to both male and female patients, especially if they experience serious side effects from the vaccine. They should wait till they have fully recovered before starting any IVF procedures. Consult with your doctor immediately if you experience any side effects from the vaccine.
Pregnancy and Vaccination
For women that get pregnant through IVF treatment, there is much physical, emotional, mental and financial strain that goes into achieving that positive result. It is natural to not want to endanger the foetus that has been so sought after.
Thankfully, studies thus far indicate that women that are already pregnant may safely be vaccinated against Covid-19. This is because the risk of complications from becoming infected with the coronavirus can be significant for pregnant women. The general consensus is that the benefits of the vaccines far outweigh the risks of side effects from said vaccines.
If you get pregnant after having had the first shot of vaccines that require a double dose, you are advised to proceed with the scheduled next shot. If you are pregnant and already qualify for a booster shot, you are advised to get this done as well.
There is some risk of temporary side effects with Covid-19 vaccines. This effect can vary widely but is more frequently seen with the second dose of vaccines that require double dosage. Fever is a symptom of concern. If you do suffer from fever, you are advised to take acetaminophen. Treating fever urgently is important when pregnant as this symptom can affect pregnancy outcomes.
Pregnancy After Vaccination
Pregnant women are at a higher risk of severe illness if they get Covid-19 than those that are not pregnant. Your risk of severe illness is however reduced if you have had the Covid-19 vaccine. Therefore, know that you are in a safer position if you fall pregnant after having been vaccinated. Also, as soon as you qualify to take the booster shot, please do so.
For mothers that have delivered and are breastfeeding, vaccination is also still recommended. Research has shown that those that have taken mRNA vaccines may be able to pass the antibodies to their babies through breastmilk, which may help to better protect them from severe illness.
Pregnancy with Covid-19
Just as with people that are not pregnant, there is a high chance you may end up with no or mild symptoms even if you test positive for Covid-19. However, if you are exhibiting serious symptoms, you may need to be hospitalised.
Research has also shown that pregnant women that become infected are more likely to deliver their baby before the 37th week. This means they are at an increased risk of having a premature birth, which can endanger the life of the child. The health risks are further increased for women with chronic conditions like diabetes. It is therefore important to urgently get in touch with your doctor if you are already pregnant and have tested positive for Covid-19.
Treatment will be based on the symptoms you exhibit. If you have no or mild symptoms, follow advisories to get plenty of rest and stay well hydrated. If the symptoms and worse and you are prescribed medication, take them as directed and go to the hospital if the situation worsens.
If you have recently had a Covid-19 infection and recovered, and now want to get pregnant, you may however want to wait a while. Some researchers recommend waiting at least 3 months before trying to get pregnant. While Covid-19 may not affect fertility, it may affect the quality of sperm, eggs and thus resulting embryos. Not to mention the health of the mother and her ability to successfully carry a pregnancy. Do consult with your doctor before attempting to get pregnant soon after recovering from an infection.
General Guidelines for Pregnant Women
Do get vaccinated. You, your partner, and anyone else you reside with that is of appropriate age. The approved vaccines are safe for anyone looking to get pregnant. The health complications that may arise from getting infected with Covid-19 while unvaccinated far outweigh the potential side effects you may suffer from the vaccine.
However, the vaccine is designed to help reduce the severity of the infection if you are infected. It cannot entirely prevent you from becoming infected if exposed to the virus. Hence, you need to practice appropriate safety measures to avoid getting infected at all. This includes:
- Wear a properly fitted mask whenever you leave home
- Practising safe social distancing
- Avoid crowds and places with poor ventilation
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with clean water and soap, or an alcohol-based sanitiser
- Cover your mouth and nose with a bent elbow when sneezing or coughing
- Self-isolate and get tested if you exhibit Covid-19 symptoms. Remain in isolation till you recover. If you become too ill, go to the hospital.