Colorado hospital refuses to give life-saving transplant to patient not vaccinated for COVID

A Colorado hospital system is reportedly denying transplants to patients who have not gotten a COVID-19 vaccine in “almost all situations” due to studies that show those patients dying more frequently if they contract the illness.

The policy was highlighted on Tuesday after Colorado state Rep. Tim Geitner, a Republican, said University of Colorado Health (UCHealth) in Aurora denied a Colorado Springs woman a kidney transplant because she had not yet gotten a vaccine, the Washington Post reported.

Geitner called the decision discriminatory and “disgusting” after sharing a letter that the patient allegedly received in late September from the UCHealth transplant center at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus.

“The policy illustrates the growing costs of being unvaccinated and wades into deeply controversial territory — the use of immunization status to decide who gets limited medical care,” the Post reported, noting that putting vaccinated people ahead of others for life-saving medical treatment has caused “intense backlash as overwhelmingly unvaccinated…patients push some hospitals to adopt ‘crisis standards of care,’ in which health systems prioritize patients for scarce resources based largely on their likelihood of survival.”


According to a copy of the letter that was posted online, the transplant team at UCHealth “determined that it is necessary to place you on the waiting list,” adding that the patient is “inactivated” and “on the list for non-compliance by not receiving a COVID vaccine.” The letter advises the patient they have 30 days to begin a COVID vaccine series and if the patient does not do so, they “will be removed from the kidney transplant list.”

The letter advises the patient they will be placed back on the active waiting list once the vaccine series is complete.

According to ABC7, the woman is Leilani Lutali, who lives in El Paso County. In an interview with KOAA Tuesday, she said, “I feel coerced. I feel like my life is being held in their hands in exchange for a shot, and the attitude is just take the shot.”

Added Geitner: “The understanding is basically… conform to this demand. Take this COVID vaccine or otherwise, you will be denied a life-saving procedure.”

He posted a copy of Lutali’s letter on Twitter.

He added that the hospital system isn’t budging.

“I’ve had 2-3 exchanges, actually — a few text messages, a couple of phone calls, a couple of emails — in and around this issue,” Geitner told ABC7. “There is very little that UCHealth is prepared to do… an exemption to policy or a change in policy or accommodating or anything else.”

The Post reported that the hospital system would not discuss the particular patient named in the letter due to federal privacy laws and the paper was unable to otherwise verify the woman’s story named in the letter.

However, the hospital did confirm on Tuesday that almost all of its transplant recipients are required to be vaccinated for COVID as part of a regiment of other vaccinations and health requirements. A hospital spokesman named Dan Weaver told the post that transplant centers around the country have either adopted the same policy or are moving in that direction.

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

Citing federal sources, the Post said that currently there are currently about 100,000 people on a transplant waiting list in the U.S., adding that only a small percentage of people waiting for a kidney last year received one. About 17 people die each day waiting for an organ.

Weaver said that studies show the mortality rate for organ recipients who get COVID-19 ranges from 20 percent to more than 30 percent versus the 1.6 percent mortality rate for the virus in the rest of the population. He was not clear what exceptions there might be for unvaccinated transplant patients, the Post reported.

Jon Dougherty


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