Tue. May 17th, 2022

Unvaccinated patients are kicked off with waiting lists with organ transplants

An increasing number of medical facilities across the country are directing coveted organ donations to patients who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, pushing people who remain unvaccinated down or even away from transplant waiting lists.

The idea behind this step is simple: As the transmission of the pandemic coronavirus is still high in the United States, unvaccinated transplant candidates face an extremely high risk of COVID-19, which poses a danger to them and jeopardizes the usefulness of the scarce, life-saving bodies.

Receiving a transplanted organ requires patients to take immunosuppressive drugs that prevent their bodies from rejecting the new organ as foreign. However, this immunosuppression also makes the recipients highly susceptible to being infected with the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and developing severe COVID-19. Some experts estimate that the risk of transplant recipients dying from COVID-19 is as high as 20 to 30 percent.

Odds of survival have long been recognized in prioritizing who gets donated organs. And it is also standard to require vaccinations against devastating infectious diseases. Organ recipients are already generally required to be vaccinated against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, influenza and tetanus, among other diseases.


Still, COVID-19 vaccines, recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, are new to the list. On August 13, the American Society of Transplantation and the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation (ISHLT) published a joint statement recommending that “all recipients of organ transplants should be vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2”, just as “all eligible households should” and close contacts “for these recipients. More and more transplant programs are adopting the policy – but not all yet.

The reality of unvaccinated patients being kicked off with some organ waiting lists recently made headlines with the story of an unvaccinated Colorado woman named Leilani Lutali. UCHealth in Denver denied Lutali’s kidney transplant because she was unvaccinated and informed her in a letter that she would be listed as “disabled” on the kidney transplant waiting list if she did not receive a first vaccine dose within 30 days. Lutali, who told the Associated Press that she is a born-again Christian without a denomination, says she is protesting against the vaccinations on religious grounds. With the national patchwork of vaccine requirements for transplant patients, Lutali is now seeking a transplant in another state, e.g. Texas or Florida, in facilities that do not require COVID-19 vaccination.

“I feel like I’m being forced not to be able to wait and see, and that I need to take the shot if I want this life-saving transplant,” Lutali told Kaiser Health News.

Outlet noted that there are nearly 107,000 people waiting for organs in the United States – more than 90,000 of them are waiting like Lutali for a kidney. Dozens of people in need of various organs die every day while waiting, the KHN reported.

“We impose hepatitis and flu vaccines, and no one has a problem with it,” says Dr. Kapilkumar Patel, director of the lung transplant program at Tampa General Hospital in Florida, to KHN. “And now we have this one vaccination that can save lives and have an impact on the recovery phase after the transplant. And we have this huge uprising from the public. ”

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