A Colorado Springs woman was removed from an active kidney transplant waiting list due to the fact she is unvaccinated, with the UCHealth hospital system saying it will deny the potentially life-saving procedure to the unvaxxed.
The transplant candidate, Leilani Lutali, said she received a letter from the University of Colorado Hospital informing her that she was “inactivated” on the waiting list for “non-compliance by not receiving the Covid vaccine,” and that she had 30 days to get her first shot to return to active status, a local Fox affiliate reported on Wednesday.
“If your decision is to refuse Covid vaccination, you will be removed from the kidney transplant list,” the letter continued, as quoted from a copy obtained and shared on Twitter by Colorado state Rep. Tem Geitner.
You will continue to accrue waiting time, but you will not receive a kidney offer while listed inactive. Once you complete the Covid vaccination series you will be reactivated on the kidney transplant list pending any other changes in your health condition.
UCHealth denies life saving treatment - kidney transplant - to El Paso County resident. See my FB live post @timgeitnercolorado pic.twitter.com/Z2r8D2VY4m— Tim Geitner (@tgeitner) October 5, 2021
Lutali – whose potential kidney donor is also reportedly unvaccinated – said her life will be “in jeopardy” if she is denied the procedure, and has voiced concerns about the immunizations for unspecified religious reasons. She has also argued the jab may not have the intended effect due to immunosuppressant drugs that would be administered after the transplant surgery.
“Both from a religious standpoint and from doing some reading, I’m not certain that this is the right way to go,” she told local media. “The shot’s relatively new, and as a consumer, I’m not an early adopter. I wait and see what’s going on.”
I feel like I’m being coerced into not being able to wait and see, and that I have to take the shot if I want this life-saving transplant.
Lutali, moreover, said she already contracted the virus last summer and was “almost asymptomatic.” She added: “If I … came down with a second case of Covid, it would be minimal,” suggesting she may have some level of natural immunity.
The UCHealth hospital system outlined its vaccination policy in a lengthy statement provided to media outlets on Wednesday, explaining that transplant surgeries are “unique” procedures that carry risks of “serious complications,” up to and including death, and that every precaution must be taken to avoid adverse outcomes.
“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,” the hospital said, noting that other transplant centers across the US have adopted the same policies.
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Organ recipients face “significant risk” from Covid-19 post-surgery, the hospital noted, citing research that found a much higher coronavirus mortality rate among transplant patients.
Nonetheless, Colorado state Rep. Geitner, a Republican representing El Paso County, tore into UCHealth for the decision, saying on Tuesday: “The understanding is basically… conform to this demand. Take this Covid vaccine or otherwise you will be denied a life-saving procedure.”
Geitner also stated during a Facebook livestream that he’d contacted the hospital system multiple times, looking to carve out an exception for Lutali’s case in particular.
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. There is very little that UCHealth is prepared to do... an exemption to policy or a change in policy or accommodating or anything else.
However, some critics pushed back against the outrage, with one observer noting that vaccines and other life-style related issues regularly factor into transplant decisions, deeming it “standard medical practice.”
“Exclusion criteria for limited organs is standard medical practice. In the case of kidneys this includes blood type, match level, location, donor-recipient size, smoking, obesity, infection, heart disease & other risks to long-term survival. Nothing new,” tweeted Colorado Sun columnist Trish Zornio.
Yes, those with the best chance of long-term survival always get first priority for transplants. It's standard ethical practice, and an immunocompromised patient is at very high risk of severe outcomes or death with COVID-19. Non-vaccination is therefore a valid exclusion.— Trish Zornio (@trish_zornio) October 5, 2021
Exclusion criteria for limited organs is standard medical practice. In the case of kidneys this includes blood type, match level, location, donor-recipient size, smoking, obesity, infection, heart disease & other risks to long-term survival. Nothing new.https://t.co/Dtjq6X0s2d— Trish Zornio (@trish_zornio) October 6, 2021
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