Oct. 6, 2021 -- A Colorado health system is denying organ transplants to patients who aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19 in “almost all situations.”
The rule came up Tuesday when Colorado state Rep. Tim Geitner said the health system denied a kidney transplant to a Colorado Springs woman because she was unvaccinated.
Geitner shared a letter that the patient received last week from the transplant center at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus. The letter said she would be “inactivated” on a kidney transplant waiting list and had 30 days to start the COVID-19 vaccination process. If she declined to get a shot, she would be removed from the waiting list.
UCHealth declined to discuss the specific case, and The Washington Post couldn’t verify the patient’s story. But the health system confirmed that nearly all of its transplant recipients and organ donors must have certain vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine. (Most transplant centers in the U.S. have similar policies or are adopting them now, a spokesman said.)
Organ transplant recipients and donors are typically required to meet certain health measures to ensure that organs won’t be rejected after surgery, the newspaper reported. For instance, transplant centers often require people to get vaccinations, take crucial medications, stop smoking, and avoid alcohol.
Multiple studies have also shown that transplant patients face a high risk of death due to COVID-19. The mortality rate for transplant patients who develop COVID-19 ranges from 20% to more than 30%, which is higher than the 1.6% observed in the general U.S. population, the newspaper reported.
“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,” Dan Weaver, a spokesman for UCHealth, wrote in an email to The Washington Post.
“Physicians must consider the short- and long-term health risks for patients as they consider whether to recommend an organ transplant,” he wrote.
On Tuesday, Geitner also criticized UCHealth for firing unvaccinated staff, who represent less than 1% of the health system’s workforce, according to The Denver Post. Hospital systems across the country have required vaccines for workers this fall and began to suspend or terminate positions in the past week.
Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest nonprofit health care companies in the U.S., has suspended more than 2,200 employees who haven’t yet been vaccinated or requested an exemption, according to ABC 7, an ABC News affiliate in Los Angeles. The workers, who make up less than 2% of the company’s workforce, have been placed on unpaid administrative leave.
When Kaiser Permanente announced its vaccine mandate in August, 78% of employees had been vaccinated. Now, 92% have been vaccinated, ABC 7 reported. The 2,200 workers placed on leave have until Dec. 1 to get a shot.
“This number is declining daily, and as employees respond, they may return to work,” the company wrote in a statement. “We hope none of our employees will choose to leave their jobs rather than be vaccinated, but we won’t know with certainty until then.”
Health systems are putting other vaccinate-related requirements in place as well. Ochsner Health, which is the largest nonprofit health care system in Louisiana, announced that it will charge workers $200 more per month for their unvaccinated spouses or partners who are covered by the hospital group’s insurance policies, according to CBS News.
The health system called the new surcharge a “cost adjustment” for those who are unvaccinated, citing the high cost of treatment for patients with COVID-19. The new rule will take effect in 2022.
Ochsner has required all of its 32,000 employees to get vaccinated or request an exemption. Employees with spouses or partners who want to remain unvaccinated can pay the fee or seek health insurance elsewhere, the health system said.
“This is not a mandate as non-employed spouses and domestic partners can choose to select a health plan outside of Ochsner Health offerings,” Warner Thomas, the health system’s president and CEO, said in a statement.
“The reality is the cost of treating COVID-19, particularly for patients requiring intensive inpatient care, is expensive,” he said. “We spent more than $9 million on COVID care for those who are covered on our health plans over the last year.”