Should vaccine status influence a patient's treatment? 4 hospital associations weigh in

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Some healthcare officials have said they will need to triage hospital resources based on a patient's likelihood of survival. This has led some hospital officials and physicians to question if a patient's COVID-19 vaccination status should be a factor, according to an Aug. 25 report by the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

In Dallas, an internal memo circulated among physicians considered whether a person's vaccination status affected their chance of survival and treatment access. In Alabama, a physician decided to no longer treat unvaccinated patients because "COVID is a miserable way to die and I can't watch them die like that."

Five things to know:

  1. The Tennessee Hospital Association said vaccination status would not be a determining factor in a patient's treatment.

    "Hospitals have a mission to serve their communities and provide life-saving care to anyone in need," said Andrea Turner, a spokesperson for the association. "Moreover, hospitals are bound by the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act, a federal law intended to ensure all have access to care in an emergency. Tennessee hospitals will continue to treat patients regardless of their vaccination status but urge everyone to do their part and get vaccinated for COVID-19 if eligible."

  2. The Tennessee Department of Health said while the state has guidelines for how to ethically allocate scarce healthcare resources, it's up to each hospital to make its own choices.

  3. A spokesperson for Mississippi Hospital Association said he was unaware of any discussions on allocating hospital resources based on vaccination status and that Mississippi hospitals are treating individuals with severe cases of COVID-19 regardless of vaccination status.

  4. The Arkansas Hospital Association did not address the question directly, Commercial Appeal reported. Instead, it offered a statement that said the state's hospitals were doing everything possible to expand treatment capacity.

    "So far, hospitals of all sizes throughout the state have been willing and able to incrementally increase capacity in the face of surging demand for hospital care," said Ashley Warren, spokesperson for the association. "The largest obstacle they have faced and continue to face in doing so is staffing shortages."

  5. The American Hospital Association's answer was more complex. For emergency patients and pregnant patients in labor, their vaccine status has no influence on their ability to get care. However, if a patient needs an elective procedure, then physicians may delay services so the patient can get vaccinated.

    "If a patient is in need of non-emergency surgery or other care that might leave the patient with a weakened immune system or the inability to mount a strong response to the vaccination, doctors may want to delay services long enough for the patient to get vaccinated so that they are as safe as possible," the AHA said in a statement.

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