Colorado hospitals deny organ transplants to unvaccinated



A Colorado hospital system says it is denying organ transplants to patients who haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 “in almost all situations” under a new policy.

UCHealth, which operates hospitals and urgent care facilities throughout the state, confirmed to The Post on Wednesday that organ transplant recipients and living donors must now be vaccinated against COVID-19 before undergoing procedures.

The health system said the driving force behind the policy change was studies showing transplant patients are more likely to die if they contract COVID-19. The mortality rate for transplant patients who get COVID is more than 20 percent, according to UCHealth.

“This is why it is essential that both the recipient and the living donor be vaccinated and take other precautions prior to undergoing transplant surgery,” UCHealth said in a statement.

“Surgeries may be postponed until patients take all required precautions in order to give them the best chance at positive outcomes.”

It wasn’t immediately clear when the new policy was put in place or what situations did not warrant a COVID vaccine.

UCHealth confirmed the policy change after Republican Colorado state Rep. Tim Geitner on Tuesday tweeted out a letter that Colorado Springs woman Leilani Lutali received last month, saying her waiting list status for her kidney transplant had been changed to “inactive” because she hadn’t been vaccinated.

Leilani Lutali.
Leilani Lutali says her waiting list status for her kidney transplant had been changed to “inactive” because she hadn’t been vaccinated against COVID-19.

In an interview with CBS Denver, Lutali said her donor, Jaimee Fougner — whom she met in Bible study 10 months ago — also hadn’t been vaccinated.

Lutali, who has stage 5 renal failure, said she was informed of the new policy in a Sept. 28 letter after initially being told in August she didn’t need to have the vaccine to get her new kidney.

She said she doesn’t want to get the vaccine because there are too many unknowns.

“I said I’ll sign a medical waiver. I have to sign a waiver anyway for the transplant itself, releasing them from anything that could possibly go wrong,” Lutali said.

“It’s surgery, it’s invasive. I sign a waiver for my life. I’m not sure why I can’t sign a waiver for the COVID shot.”

Fougner, who said she hasn’t received the shot for religious reasons, added: “It’s your choice on what treatment you have. In Leilani’s case, the choice has been taken from her. Her life has now been held hostage because of this mandate.”

The pair are looking for another hospital to carry out the transplant.

UCHealth doubled down on its new policy, saying other transplant centers across the country already have COVID vaccine mandates in place and others are introducing it now.

Other transplant centers across the country already have COVID-19 vaccine mandates in place and others are starting to introduce it.
Chuck Bigger/Alamy Live News

“An organ transplant is a unique surgery that leads to a lifetime of specialized management to ensure an organ is not rejected, which can lead to serious complications, the need for a subsequent transplant surgery, or even death,” UCHealth said in a statement.  

“Physicians must consider the short and long-term health risks for patients as they consider whether to recommend an organ transplant.”

UCHealth said there are specific requirements in place prior to transplants taking place. In some instances, patients are required to have other vaccinations, such as hepatitis B, or may be required to avoid alcohol, smoking or prove they can continue taking anti-rejection medications.

“These requirements increase the likelihood that a transplant will be successful and the patient will avoid rejection,” the statement said.

“In almost all situations, transplant recipients and living donors at UCHealth are now required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in addition to meeting other health requirements and receiving additional vaccinations.”


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