Western Pa. hospitals: We won’t deny organ transplants to patients who refuse covid-19 vaccine – TribLIVE

Medical providers in Colorado and Washington state have begun denying organ transplants to patients who refuse to get vaccinated for covid-19.

That’s not happening in Western Pennsylvania, the Tribune-Review has learned.

Neither of the region’s two largest hospital systems and transplant providers are linking transplant eligibility to covid-19 vaccination status.

“We do not have a policy regarding covid-19 vaccination requirement for transplant candidates,” UPMC spokeswoman Andrea Kunicky said by email. “UPMC continues its vaccine advocacy and outreach efforts and makes vaccines easily and readily available for all.”

Highmark’s Allegheny Health Network also has no such policy, but its physicians and transplant teams “continue to stress the importance of the covid-19 vaccine,” particularly for people who are at greater risk because of underlying conditions such as organ failure and weakened immune systems, according to AHN spokeswoman Catherine Clements.

“We strongly encourage all of the patients we care for in the transplant program — including those waiting for a donor organ and those who have received one — to get the covid-19 vaccine,” Clements said by email. “Currently, the vast majority of the patients in our abdominal and cardiovascular transplant programs have heeded that recommendation, and we take every opportunity to reinforce with those who haven’t the importance of doing so.”

Colorado state Rep. Tim Geitner, R-El Paso County, drew national attention to the issue of unvaccinated organ recipients earlier this week, when he took to social media to share his outrage after a constituent wrote to him that she was going to be denied a kidney transplant by UCHealth because she won’t get a covid vaccine shot. The woman with end-stage renal disease and a donor lined up said she shared a letter from UCHealth telling her she had 30 days to get her first shot or would be “removed from the kidney transplant list.”

UCHealth would not discuss a specific patient’s case but told The Denver Post that its policy is to deny organ transplants to those who are not vaccinated for covid-19 “in almost all situations.”

Geitner said in a Facebook Live video that the health system’s officials were “basically saying they are willing to discriminate against an individual based on their vaccine status.” He said he considers the policy “incredibly disgusting” and “incredibly sad.”

“The understanding is basically conform to this demand, take this covid vaccine or otherwise you will be denied this life-saving procedure,” Geitner said in his eight-minute Facebook video.

Similar policies are popping up elsewhere, as the delta variant continues to pose a threat and the coronavirus disease spreads in places with low vaccination rates.

On Thursday, UW Medicine in Washington affirmed it put a similar policy in place a few weeks ago. It requires all transplant recipients to be fully vaccinated unless they have “a specific medical exemption that prevents” them from doing so.

“After a transplant, your immune system is suppressed and in a prolonged weakened state. It also makes you more vulnerable to infections from viruses like covid-19 that can lead to severe illness or death,” UW Medicine posted in an online explanation of the policy. “UW Medicine has long required patients to be current on all critical vaccinations prior to their procedure. This now includes vaccination against covid-19.”

Clements said AHN follows guidelines set by the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS.

“AHN’s transplant programs are committed to providing patients with all the information and guidance they need to give them the best chance of having a long-term successful outcome following transplantation surgery,” Clements said.

But the national network said it gives providers discretion over specific requirements for removing or adding candidates to transplant wait lists.

A range of other requirements long have been mandatory for transplant candidates, such as adhering to a specific diet, not drinking alcohol or smoking and being up to date on other vaccinations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month that research shows those who are not fully vaccinated are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized for covid-19 and 11 times more likely to die from it.

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, nlindstrom@triblive.com or via Twitter .