The Health Ministry on Tuesday said it would renew in vitro fertilization treatments for women over 39 years old who do not suffer from chronic conditions that could place them at greater risk from COVID-19.
Last month, the Health Ministry suspended all new IVF treatments, as well as some already in process, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, throwing thousands of hopeful couples into uncertainty, as their dreams of having a child were put on hold indefinitely.
This week, as the number of daily virus cases remained low, the ministry began to lift many of its restrictions on treatments, including gradually reintroducing medical care it had designated as nonessential at the height of the outbreak. Israel has seen 208 deaths and over 15,000 virus cases since March.
Under the new guidelines, effective immediately, women above 39 may resume IVF treatments, unless they suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic lung conditions, or obesity (above a BMI of 35).
For other non-IVF fertility treatments, women over 35 may resume the medical procedures, provided they also have no medical history of those conditions, all of which have been linked to more severe coronavirus symptoms.
The clinics were ordered to keep strict hygienic conditions and social distancing, staggering appointments and taking temperatures at the door. The patients must undergo a coronavirus test 72 hours before an IVF treatment begins and test negative, it said. Moreover, family members or friends cannot accompany the patient beyond the waiting room.
The ministry said it would continue to monitor the pandemic and make changes to its IVF policy based on how the virus spreads. If the outbreak does not worsen in the next three months, the ministry said it would consider resuming all IVF treatments.
In vitro — literally, “in glass” — fertilization typically involves a round of hormone treatments to stimulate a woman’s ovaries’ follicles, in order to produce several mature eggs; a procedure to retrieve those eggs; incubating the eggs with sperm in order to fertilize them (this is the “in glass” part); selecting the embryo, or embryos, with the best chance of a successful pregnancy; and implanting it or them in a woman’s uterus, where the embryo will hopefully implant, and develop into a fetus.
IVF is a difficult process — technically and emotionally — that requires close, regular monitoring and, even when done properly, statistically fails more often than it succeeds. Yet in Israel, which has the highest rate of IVF in the world, roughly five percent of all births come from the procedure, according to Health Ministry data from 2017.
In calling off IVF treatments, Israel was following the path of similar decisions made by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
A Health Ministry spokesperson said at the time that it had ordered all new cycles of IVF called off, along with any treatment where the size of the ovary follicle was smaller than 15 millimeters. (A woman whose ovary follicle has reached 15 millimeters would be toward the end of the hormone treatment, likely two to three days away from egg retrieval.)
In addition, the implantation of embryos was halted.