UW Health to require transplant patients get COVID-19 vaccine

MADISON, Wis. — UW Health announced Thursday that patients waiting for organ transplants will now be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before they can be added to the waitlist or receive a transplant.

The new policy goes into effect Nov. 15 and will apply to those already on the waitlist and anyone being evaluated for a transplant. Patients who are already on the UW Health Transplant Center waitlist will have until Dec. 15 to get their first dose and an additional second dose, depending on which vaccine the patient gets.

Patients who don’t submit vaccination records by Jan. 14, 2022 will be changed to an “inactive status” until they’ve completed their vaccine series. While inactive, patients won’t be able to move forward with the transplant process, UW Health officials said. Anyone who is being evaluated for a transplant or plans to be will need to get vaccinated before they’re added to the waitlist.

“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,” said Dr. Dixon Kaufman, medical director of the UW Health Transplant Center. “It is unfortunate that transplant recipients—because of the anti-rejection drugs they need—are put at far greater risk than others for severe illness or death from COVID-19. We believe that requiring vaccination for COVID-19, just as vaccinations are required for other infectious diseases, gives our recipients the best odds for surviving and thriving once they receive their transplant.”

UW Health officials said patients who are too ill to wait to complete their vaccination series can continue with the waitlisting and/or transplant process if they acknowledge their increased risk of a severe COVID-19 infection. Those patients will be required to get vaccinated as soon as recommended by their medical team after their transplant surgery.

Patients will also be encouraged to get a booster shot when they’re eligible.

Experts said pre- and post-transplant vaccinations have been common practice within the transplant field for years because some medications required for transplants can diminish antibody responses to vaccinations.

When it comes to COVID-19, unvaccinated transplant recipients are especially vulnerable. A study of 482 unvaccinated patients who contracted the disease showed 78% had to be hospitalized, and of those, 20.5% died.

UW Health’s decision to require vaccines comes after the American Society of Transplant Surgeon, the nation’s largest organization working in support of transplant surgery and research.