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Colorado hospital system will not perform transplants on unvaccinated patients in most cases

States take action as COVID death toll grows
States encouraging vaccinations as COVID death toll passes 700,000 07:27

A hospital system in Colorado says it will not perform transplant surgery for unvaccinated patients in most cases. UCHealth said it implemented the policy to protect its patients, CBS Denver reports

"For transplant patients who contract COVID-19, the mortality rate ranges from about 20% to more than 30%," UCHealth said in a statement to CBS Denver. "This shows the extreme risk that COVID-19 poses to transplant recipients after their surgeries."

Studies show the COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. are highly effective at preventing illness. In the U.S., 186 million people have been fully vaccinated – 56.68% of the population – according to Johns Hopkins University.

Still, some unvaccinated transplant patients in Colorado – a state with 62.05% of its population vaccinated – are feeling the effects of UCHealth's new policy.

One woman with stage 5 renal failure was months away from getting a new kidney, but is now looking for a new hospital since she and her donor are not vaccinated, CBS Denver reports. 

Jaimee Fougner, who is donating a kidney to Leilani Lutali, said she hasn't received the vaccine for religious reasons. Lutali said she hasn't gotten the vaccine because there are too many unknowns. The women, who met in Bible study, didn't know about the need for vaccines before surgery until last week.

"At the end of August, they confirmed that there was no COVID shot needed at that time," Lutali told CBS Denver. "Fast forward to September 28. That's when I found out. Jamie learned they have this policy around the COVID shot for both for the donor and the recipient."

UCHealth, which sent the women a letter informing them about the vaccine policy, said they have been given 30 days to get the first shot. If they refuse, they will be removed from the transplant list. 

"I said I'll sign a medical waiver. I have to sign a waiver anyway for the transplant itself, releasing them from anything that could possibly go wrong," Lutali said. "It's surgery, it's invasive. I sign a waiver for my life. I'm not sure why I can't sign a waiver for the COVID shot."

UCHealth said the purpose of the vaccine policy is protect the health of its patients and that transplant centers across the U.S. have such requirements in place. 

Patients are often required to receive other vaccinations, such hepatitis B and MMR, before surgery, UCHealth says. The hospital says such requirements increase the likelihood of a successful transplant. 

The women have not been able to find another Colorado hospital willing to perform the transplant if they are unvaccinated, so they are looking at options in other states, CBS Denver reports. 

CBS News has reached out to UCHealth for comment and is awaiting response. 

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