Hospital system denying transplants to unvaccinated patients

A Colorado hospital system confirmed Tuesday that it is denying transplants to people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 “in almost all situations,” saying that the vaccine makes it more likely that a transplant will be successful, according to The Denver Post.

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The hospital system’s practice came to light Tuesday after Colorado state Rep. Tim Geitner (R) posted a letter on Twitter that he said UCHealth sent to an El Paso County woman who is awaiting a transplant and unvaccinated against COVID-19.

“The transplant team at University of Colorado Hospital has determined that it is necessary to place you inactive on the waiting list,” the letter read. “You will be inactivated on the list for non-compliance by not receiving the COVID vaccine.”

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In the letter, officials said the woman had 30 days to begin a vaccination series before being removed from the kidney transplant list, unless she got vaccinated.

In a Facebook Live video, Geitner said the woman had a transplant donor lined up. He called UCHealth’s policy “incredibly frustrating, incredibly sad, incredibly disgusting.”

“I think this brings great concern for many of us where we look at the type of care that we can expect from our health facilities here in Colorado, where based on your vaccination status based on COVID that you would actually be denied care,” he said.

UCHealth spokesman Dan Weaver told the Post that it’s common practice for hospitals to require that patients meet a variety of conditions, including some requiring vaccinations, before and after the patient gets a transplant.

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“For example, patients may be required to receive vaccinations including hepatitis B, MMR and others,” he told the newspaper in an email. “Patients may also be required to avoid alcohol, stop smoking, or prove they will be able to continue taking their anti-rejection medications long after their transplant surgery. These requirements increase the likelihood that a transplant will be successful and the patient will avoid rejection.”

Weaver told The Washington Post that the mortality rate for transplant patients infected with COVID-19 ranges from 20% to more than 30%, much higher than the 1.6% fatality rate seen nationally from COVID-19.

“An organ transplant is a unique surgery that leads to a lifetime of specialized management to ensure an organ is not rejected, which can lead to serious complications, the need for a subsequent transplant surgery, or even death,” he said in an email, according to The Washington Post. “Physicians must consider the short- and long-term health risks for patients as they consider whether to recommend an organ transplant.”

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More than 106,000 people are on the national transplant waiting list and 17 people die each day while waiting for a transplant, according to data from the federal Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

About 56% of the U.S. population, or 186 million people, has been fully vaccinated as of Tuesday morning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research has shown that fully vaccinated people can spread the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19. However, officials have noted that vaccination protects well against severe and life-threatening symptoms of the viral infection.

Since the start of the pandemic, officials have confirmed over 43.9 million COVID-19 infections and reported more than 705,000 deaths nationwide, according to numbers compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Over 235.9 million COVID-19 cases have been reported worldwide, resulting in more than 4.8 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.