OHSU: Organ transplant patients must be fully vaccinated

MEDFORD, Ore. — Oregon Health and Science University said you have to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 in order to receive an organ transplant. According to a letter sent by OHSA in early September, this policy is nothing new.

The letter says it’s committed to keeping it’s patients safe. In order to do that, the hospital needed to make an important change to the transplant  requirements. The change made the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory in order to be activated on the transplant list. “The science behind it is clear. People get really, really sick after a transplant and people get really, really sick with COVID, we have got to give everybody the best chance they can at recovery,” said Dr. Jim Shames, public health director of Jackson County.

But this policy isn’t new, its always required all appropriate vaccines before a transplant. “There’s not an infinite number of transplantable organs. There are more people that want a transplant than available organs,” said Dr. Shames.

The hospital says post-transplant, people have weakened immune systems. Without a strong immune system, patients suffer more severe symptoms of COVID. “If you have to go to the hospital, have an elective surgery. Whatever it is that is going to put you in a physical risk, you’re going to want to take risk of dying or getting sick from COVID off the table,” said Dr. Shames.

The CDC says on any given day around 75,000 people are on the waiting list for organs. Only around 34,000 organs are donated per year. “If you are very frail, you have cancer and you’re 90 years old and you need a heart transplant, you’re probably not going to get it. The 50 year old with an underlying genetic disease is probably going to get it,” said Dr. Shames.

Dr. Shames explains hospitals typically triage patients in order of need.  “If you are susceptible to something that could kill you or make the transplant very difficult, you will probably get triaged lower on the list,” he said.

We reached out to OHSU for an interview, they said no one was available to speak to us today.

They did send a statement which we have included below in full:

Getting vaccinated is the safest, most effective way to protect organ transplant candidates from life-threatening infectious diseases. Oregon Health & Science University has added COVID-19 to its list of mandatory vaccinations for being on a wait list for an organ transplant. OHSU has contacted patients on its solid-organ transplant waitlists as well as those being considered for its waitlists, and will work closely with them to ensure their medical records are updated after they obtain proof of vaccination.

Organ transplant recipients must take immune-suppressing medications for the rest of their lives to prevent their bodies from rejecting the new organs. While these medications help protect transplanted organs, they unfortunately also place transplant recipients at higher risk for infection, including for COVID-19. Additionally, vaccines can be less effective when they’re received by individuals on immunosuppressive drugs, making it important for patients to get vaccinated against various disease before they undergo organ transplantation.

OHSU and transplant centers around the country are requiring pre-transplant COVID-19 vaccination, in alignment with recommendations made in a joint statement by the American Society of Transplantation and The International Society for Heart and Lung Transplant. The United Network of Organ Sharing also recognizes “each transplant hospital makes its own decisions about listing candidates according to the hospital’s best clinical judgment, including whether or not any specific vaccination is part of their eligibility criteria.”

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