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  • Robert Preidt and Robin Foster
  • Posted January 27, 2022

Hospital Defends Decision to Deny Heart Transplant to Unvaccinated Man

In response to claims that a man was denied a heart transplant because he refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston said Wednesday that its transplant policies mirror those used across the United States.

In a crowdfunding appeal for 31-year-old D.J. Ferguson, a father of two, his family said the hospital told him he was ineligible to receive a new heart because he wasn't vaccinated, the Associated Press reported.

His mother, Tracey Ferguson, said her son isn't against vaccinations but has concerns about COVID-19 vaccines because he has a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation.

"D.J. is an informed patient," she told the AP. "He wants to be assured by his doctors that his condition would not be worse or fatal with this COVID vaccine."

Citing patient privacy laws, the hospital would not comment directly on the case. Instead, it noted that its website clearly states that the COVID-19 vaccine is one of several immunizations -- including a flu shot and hepatitis B vaccines -- required by most U.S. transplant programs, the AP reported.

The hospital also said its policies line up with American Society of Transplantation recommendations, and that research shows transplant recipients already have a higher risk of death from COVID-19 than non-transplant patients.

Along with COVID-19 vaccination, potential transplant candidates must meet other health and lifestyle requirements, and it's not known what D.J. Ferguson's situation is in that regard, according to the AP.

Other U.S. hospitals have faced criticism for denying transplants to patients who weren't vaccinated against COVID-19.

A Colorado woman suffering late-stage kidney disease said in October that she was denied a kidney transplant because she was unvaccinated. Leilani Lutali, a born-again Christian, said she opposed immunization because of the role that fetal cell lines play in some vaccines' development.

But any surgery strains a patient's immune system and can leave them vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, and organ transplant recipients are even more vulnerable because they have to take powerful drugs that suppress their immune system to keep their body from rejecting the new organ, Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association, said in a statement at the time of the Colorado case.

"Further, if patients were to wait to get their vaccine until after the surgery, it is unlikely that their immune system could mount the desired antibody reaction given that they are taking anti-rejection medications," Foster added.

Since there is a shortage of donor organs, transplant centers only place patients on the waiting list whom they deem the most likely to survive with a new organ, experts said.

"A donor heart is a precious and scarce gift which must be cared for well," Dr. Howard Eisen, medical director for the advanced heart failure program at Penn State University, told the AP. "Our goal is to preserve patient survival and good outcomes post-transplant."

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on COVID vaccines.

SOURCE: Associated Press

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