The Scottish government instructed fertility clinics to suspend services for women who are not vaccinated against COVID-19.
The United Kingdom’s Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority announced the policy change, which applies to women in Scotland using National Health Service clinics.
“The Scottish government has decided that all fertility treatment for COVID-19 unvaccinated women should be deferred where the treatment could result in a pregnancy, with immediate effect (or from whenever is practical),” the agency said.
All treatments were suspended, except for urgent fertility preservations. The agency plans to review the policy at some point in February 2022.
The decision has been called “inhumane” by lawmakers in the country.
“It is heartbreaking for those couples to have infertility treatment canceled at the last minute,” said Jackie Baillie MSP, Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman.
“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,” Baillie added.
Some healthcare law experts have said the policy could constitute unlawful discrimination or violate a person’s right to a family life, protected by human rights legislation.
Dr. Mary Neal, an ethics professor at Strathclyde University, told The Telegraph that while “it sounds like a sensible policy,” it is not necessarily an ethical decision.
“But my concern is the potential indefinite nature of these delays, which will cause concern to people who want to become pregnant,” said Dr. Neal. “If I was a woman who was running out of time to become pregnant, I think this would hit quite hard.”
Repeated notices from the national government that the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for pregnant women have not encouraged the demographic to get the shot.
A report from Public Health Scotland said the vaccination rate among pregnant women is notably lower than their non-pregnant in the same age groups. The vaccine rate is “generally been higher for pregnant women in older, compared to younger, age groups.
“Of the 4,064 women who delivered their baby in October 2021, 43% had received any COVID-19 vaccination prior to delivery,” P.H.S. said. “By contrast, 85% of all women aged 18 to 44 years had received any COVID-19 vaccination by 31st October 2021.”
The government moved pregnant women to the priority vaccination list in December.
“Due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases, and concerns about the impact on unvaccinated women, Ministers have taken a decision to temporarily defer fertility treatment for women who are not fully vaccinated,” the Scottish government said in a statement through a spokesperson. “We continue to review the evidence and will look to review this decision early this year.”
The deferral time will be added back to the patient’s treatment window so that an individual will not become ineligible due to any reason, including age.
It is not clear if both parts of a couple seeking fertility treatment need to be fully vaccinated or just the woman who would become pregnant.