A hospital in the US is making the news as it cannot perform a heart transplant on a patient who refuses to get a COVID-19 vaccination. While the move has sparked some controversy, the hospital says they are following clinical guidelines that are backed by science
DJ Ferguson, a 31-year-old father of two children with a third on the way, is in desperate need of a heart transplant. His family claims he was at the "front of the list" to receive a transplant, but found he's not eligible to undergo the operation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston because he has not received the COVID-19 vaccination, CBS Boston reports.
“My son has gone to the edge of death to stick to his guns and he’s been pushed to the limit,” said David Ferguson, the man’s father.
“It’s kind of against his basic principles; he doesn’t believe in it,” Ferguson added.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital has released a statement explaining its stance on COVID-19 vaccinations for transplant candidates. Organs are in high demand and limited supply, so doctors have to ensure they prioritize transplant candidates based on who is most likely to survive.
If patients haven't been vaccinated against COVID-19, they argue, this could jeopardize the success of the transplant because they are significantly more likely to die of complications after the operation.
“Given the shortage of available organs, we do everything we can to ensure that a patient who receives a transplanted organ has the greatest chance of survival," the hospital explained.
"Our Mass General Brigham healthcare system requires several CDC-recommended vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine, and lifestyle behaviors for transplant candidates to create both the best chance for a successful operation and to optimize the patient’s survival after transplantation, given that their immune system is drastically suppressed.”
“Research has shown that transplant recipients are at a much higher risk of dying from COVID-19 when compared to non-transplant patients.”
The hospital also indicates that Ferguson was not "front of the list" to receive a transplant and hadn't been taken off the waiting list since he would have not been active on the waitlist without fulfilling a number of criteria, one of which is the COVID-19 vaccine.
“There is no candidate who is ‘first on the list’ since there are varying levels of priority for allocation of organs. Waitlists are everchanging and are based on many patient and donor factors,” the hospital added.
The Boston hospital is not alone in this with policy. In October last year, Colorado-based healthcare system UCHealth also said they would not carry out organ transplants on unvaccinated patients, citing the same reasons.
Just like any big operation, an organ transplant carries a huge risk of complications, most notably infections. Furthermore, transplant recipients are also put on immunosuppressant drugs to lower the body's ability to reject the new organs. However, this also dampens down their wider immune system usually used to fight off infections. Even an otherwise mild common cold virus can pose a serious risk to transplant patients.
Despite this rationale, the selective distribution of healthcare remains a controversial issue, especially when lifestyle choices are involved.