How 9 hospitals are approaching COVID-19 vaccines for transplant patients

Many of the country's more than 250 organ transplant centers have recently moved to require COVID-19 vaccination for both organ recipients and donors, Kaiser Health News reports. 

Aurora, Colo.-based UCHealth garnered attention earlier this month for its policy that it will not perform organ transplants on unvaccinated patients in nearly all situations, but the health system is not alone. 

Other large systems — including Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals, also based in Cleveland — have adopted similar policies, NBC News reports. UW Medicine in Seattle has done the same, according to Kaiser's Oct. 8 report. 

Transplant programs implementing these policies note the requirement is akin to other conditions transplant recipients must abide by, such as those requiring people quit smoking or using drugs before a transplant. They also pointed to studies indicating transplant recipients are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness and outcomes. 

"Patients who have received a transplanted organ are at significant risk from COVID-19," Dan Weaver, a spokesperson for UCHealth, said in an email to Becker's. 

"Should they become infected, they are at particularly high risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death. Studies have found transplant patients who contract COVID-19 may have a mortality rate of 20 percent or higher. A living donor could pass COVID-19 infection on to an organ recipient even if they initially test negative for the disease, putting the patient's life at risk."

Other systems have opted to move unvaccinated patients lower down on their transplant lists, while some have no policy at all.

"We do not have a policy regarding COVID-19 vaccination requirement for transplant candidates," a spokesperson for the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center told the Tribune-Review. 

"UPMC continues its vaccine advocacy and outreach efforts and makes vaccines easily and readily available for all."

Other hospitals currently not requiring the vaccine for organ transplants include Houston Methodist, Dallas-based Baylor University Medical Center, Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, and Tampa (Fla.) General Hospital, Kaiser reports. 

The United Network for Organ Sharing, the national network that coordinates the country's organ donations, gives transplant centers the discretion over specific requirements for removing or adding candidates to transplant wait lists. 

However, Kapilkumar Patel, MD, director of the lung transplant program at Tampa General Hospital, expects COVID-19 vaccination will eventually become mandatory at nearly all transplant centers in the U.S., since they are evaluated on the longer-term survival of their patients. 

"I think it's going to spread like wildfire across the country," Dr. Patel told Kaiser. "If you start losing [transplant] patients in a year due to COVID-9, it will be mandated sooner rather than later."


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