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COVID-19 vaccine soon required for UW Health organ transplants

(NBC15)
Published: Nov. 11, 2021 at 1:33 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 11, 2021 at 4:29 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Anyone needing an organ transplant at UW Health soon must be fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus before doctors will perform the surgery. In the coming days, the health system will impose the requirement on patients on the waitlist as well as those being evaluated for a possible transplant.

Those undergoing evaluations right now will need to demonstrate they completed the vaccine series before being added to the hospital’s waitlist. The statement announcing the new policy added that those choosing to remain unvaccinated are able to go elsewhere for an evaluation.

“This new policy reflects our commitment to patient safety and our respect for the donors and families who’ve made the selfless decision to give others the gift of life,” medical director of the UW Health Transplant Center Dr. Dixon Kaufman said. He noted that other vaccinations are also required for other vaccinations, adding that the anti-rejection drugs needed post-transplant put patients at greater risk of severe illness or death.

“We believe that requiring vaccination for COVID-19… gives our recipients the best odds for surviving and thriving once they receive their transplant,” he continued. The hospital cited statistics from a recent that showed of the 482 unvaccinated individuals who contracted the coronavirus after receiving a transplant, 78 percent of them were hospitalized. Of those, that were hospitalized 20.5 percent of that group did not survive. Breaking down the numbers shows 77 people in the study died after contacting COVID-19.

The new protocol sets specific deadlines for patients already on the waitlist before they would be moved to an “inactive status,” which means they would not receive offers for organs and could not go ahead with a living donor transplant, even if a donor were identified. Those on the waitlist will need their first dose by Dec. 15, thirty days after the new policy goes into effect, to get the first dose. Then, they have another 30 days to get the second shot – if needed. Anyone bumped to inactive status would be eligible again two weeks after the final dose, which is commonly considered when someone is fully vaccinated.

UW Health plans to encourage patients to get a booster shot if they are eligible; however, the hospital will not require it. Vaccinations are also not mandated for all donors. Similarly, though, UW Health specifically named living kidney and living liver donor candidates as being “strongly encouraged” to get vaccinated, and doctors could require it in other cases.

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