A Colorado-based health system says it is denying organ transplants to patients not vaccinated against the coronavirus in “almost all situations,” citing studies that show these patients are much more likely to die if they get covid-19.
The policy illustrates the growing costs of being unvaccinated and wades into deeply controversial territory — the use of immunization status to decide who gets limited medical care. The mere idea of prioritizing the vaccinated for rationed health resources has drawn intense backlash, as overwhelmingly unvaccinated covid-19 patients push some hospitals to adopt “crisis standards of care,” in which health systems can prioritize patients for scarce resources based largely on their likelihood of survival.
UCHealth’s rules for transplants entered the spotlight Tuesday when Colorado state Rep. Tim Geitner (R) said it denied a kidney transplant to a Colorado Springs woman because she was not vaccinated against the coronavirus. Calling the decision “disgusting” and discriminatory, Geitner shared a letter that he said the patient received last week from UCHealth’s transplant center at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus in the city of Aurora.
The letter said the woman would be “inactivated” on a kidney transplant waiting list and had 30 days to start coronavirus vaccination. If she refused to be vaccinated, it said, she would be removed.
UCHealth declined to discuss particular patients because of federal privacy laws, and The Washington Post could not independently verify the woman’s story. But the health system confirmed Tuesday that nearly all of its transplant recipients and organ donors must get vaccinated against the coronavirus, in addition to other vaccinations and health requirements. A spokesman, Dan Weaver, said that other transplant centers in the United States have similar policies or are transitioning to them.
Conditions on organ transplants are not new. Weaver noted that transplant centers around the country may require patients to get other vaccinations, stop smoking, avoid alcohol or demonstrate that they will take crucial medications in an effort to ensure that people do well post-surgery and do not “reject” organs for which there is fierce competition.
More than 100,000 people are on the transplant waiting list, and only a fraction of those seeking a kidney got one in 2020, according to the federal government. An estimated 17 people die every day waiting for an organ.