Unvaccinated Patients Denied Organ Transplants Everywhere

by Kerry Dougherty

It’s right there on the bottom left of my Virginia driver’s license. A little heart and the words “organ donor.”

I ticked that box years ago. I also joined the bone marrow donor list when a friend had leukemia and needed a match.

Donating our organs is the last act of kindness we can do on this earth. After all, you can’t take them with you.

But recent headlines about unvaccinated patients were being denied transplants are alarming to those of us who oppose vaccine mandates and are worried about a movement toward medical apartheid.

Most concerning is the story of D.J. Ferguson, a 31-year-old father of two who was taken off the heart transplant list because he’s unvaccinated. The young Massachusetts man is critically ill, surviving on a heart pump, but was removed from the transplant list because he’s unvaccinated. According to NPR, he refused a COVID-19 vaccine over concerns about his particular heart problem and the side effects of the mRNA vaccines in young men.

D.J.’s mother, Tracey Ferguson, insists that her son isn’t against vaccinations, noting he’s had other immunizations in the past. But the trained nurse said Wednesday that he’s been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation — an irregular and often rapid heart rhythm — and that he has concerns about the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Give the guy a heart, dammit. This is cruel.

Look, I’m a skeptic. I suspected these headlined cases were outliers. Surely most hospitals wouldn’t deny a life-saving measure to a very sick person simply because they did not take the COVID-19 vaccine.

It couldn’t happen here, I thought.

I was wrong.

Earlier this week I contacted the media department at Sentara Health, one of the largest hospital systems in Virginia and the dominant provider in Hampton Roads. I asked if unvaccinated patients were eligible for transplants and if donors needed to be vaccinated.

This was the reply:

Sentara Transplant Services has joined the American Society for Transplantation and a growing number of transplant centers in requiring waitlist patients to be vaccinated for COVID-19 prior to transplant. This is an emerging standard of care to ensure successful use of precious donated organs. Transplant patients are currently required to take a battery of vaccines to prevent hepatitis, flu, tetanus, whooping cough and other diseases that threaten transplant outcomes. The COVID-19 vaccine was added to that list due to COVID-19’s deadly potential post-transplant, when recipients are on immunosuppressive drugs and highly vulnerable to infections,

Donors need not be vaccinated, they added. They must test negative for COVID-19, however.

I understand the thinking behind this. What a waste, to transplant a heart to a patient, only to have them die of COVID.

But this is a heavy-handed one-size-fits-all policy. Especially now that we know the vaccines neither prevent infection nor transmission. Seems even a mild case of COVID would threaten the health of fragile transplant patients.

This vaccine requirement is just the latest in a long list of ethical problems that surround transplants. I remember arguing with friends once about whether our donated lungs should go to former smokers who blackened their own, or our livers to alcoholics who pickled theirs.

After all, there’s no guarantee that these organ recipients won’t begin smoking and drinking again once they get a fresh set of innards. They’re addicts. Like many transplant patients, I imagine.

Eventually I concluded that I wouldn’t worry about the worthiness of my recipient. I’d donate my organs and hope that the person who got my parts would enjoy them.

I don’t like vaccine coercion. It’s repugnant that every unvaccinated person who needs a transplant has been struck from the waiting list and given a death sentence by imperious hospital administrators.

These policies may backfire. Some might not sign up to be donors once they realize that transplant centers denying organs to the unvaccinated happily provide them to patients whose reckless lifestyle choices have left them gravely ill.

That’s a curious place to draw the line.

Here’s a thought: As a way to save the lives of unvaccinated patients, perhaps donors should be able to specify that their organs go ONLY to the unvaxxed who are currently shut out of the transplant process.

I’d be down with that.

This column has been republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.