19 Jan 2021 Eggs Not A COVID-19 Infection Risk in Assisted Reproduction
Eggs, or oocytes, from women who contract COVID-19 are unlikely to become infected with the virus or to infect resulting embryos, according to a recent scientific study.
Published in Human Reproduction, the journal of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, the study examined the eggs of two women who contracted the novel coronavirus COVID-19 but who were asymptomatic at the time the eggs were collected.
Of the 16 oocytes frozen and examined, none contained the COVID-19 virus.
But the scientists still wanted to know whether the oocytes could be infected, perhaps if the women had been exhibiting symptoms or had contracted a more severe form of the virus. What they found was that the oocytes from the women “lack the biochemical machinery to allow for virus entry, or they have it but at an undetectable level.”
The bottom line: Should a woman find out she has COVID-19 after she has donated eggs for assisted reproduction, or after she has undergone cryopreservation of eggs for future fertility treatment, the resulting embryos are not at risk of infection.
COVID-19 Impacts Assisted Reproduction
From the time the pandemic hit in early 2020, reproductive healthcare professionals have been alert to the virus’s potential impact on reproduction and fertility treatment. COVID-19-related travel bans threw carefully scheduled assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedures and planned surrogacies into disarray. Initially intended parents were advised to postpone beginning new cycles of fertility treatments such as egg donation and in vitro fertilization to help conserve healthcare resources for the pandemic response and to avoid risk of infection to patients and healthcare providers alike.
But because COVID-19 was previously unknown in humans, no data existed about the danger the virus caused to human reproduction or to pregnant women. Although there are no long-term studies, short-term data so far indicates that pregnant women are not at greater risk of contracting the virus, but that pregnant women who are sick with COVID-19 are at higher risk of needing ICU care.
As we reported recently, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines now being distributed in the United States were not tested on pregnant women. However, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) suggests that in most cases pregnant women or nursing mothers should receive the vaccine, in consultation with their personal physicians, to avoid infection. (Please note: IFLG is a law firm focusing exclusively on assisted reproduction and is not qualified to dispense medical advice. All women should consult their physicians regarding medical treatment.)
In August 2020, the National Institutes of Health published “Impact of COVID‐19 and other viruses on reproductive health,” which explains how the virus is able to infect the RNA of healthy cells: “Virus entry begins when the virus surface enzyme called Spike (S) glycoprotein binds to the angiotensin‐converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) located on the host cell membrane.”
In the recent study of eggs from the two infected women, the proteins and enzymes that allow human cells to become infected and begin replicating the virus were not present on the oocyte cells, which means the virus would be unable to infect the cells.
The news is good for assisted reproduction technology providers, intended parents and surrogates. While all providers and patients should continue to adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines in their locales, a call from a contact tracer or a positive COVID test does not mean embryos or surrogates are in danger of infection. In this time of risk, uncertainty and thwarted plans, it’s one less worry for intended parents, their doctors and their families.
IFLG’s team of fertility lawyers and paralegals has helped scores of intended parents, surrogates and families navigate the challenges of COVID-19. Contact us today for more information.