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AHN, UPMC Not Mandating COVID-19 Vaccines For Organ Transplant Patients

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Some health providers around the country are mandating transplant patients and living donors get the COVID-19 vaccine. While this isn't a requirement at hospitals in western Pennsylvania, Dr. Stephen Bailey, who's the Chair of the Cardiovascular Institute at Allegheny Health Network, says the issue is still being taken very seriously.

"We do not have a policy that mandates transplant patients have the vaccine but we fully expect transplant patients to get the vaccine," said Dr. Bailey.

Dr. Bailey said the expectation to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is for many reasons.

"A transplanted organ is a sacred resource and if somebody is less likely to get the maximum benefit of that gift, that limited resource, we can't have that," said Dr. Bailey.

While AHN doesn't have a formal policy mandating transplant recipients or living donors get the shot, Dr. Bailey said he spends a lot of time talking with patients who haven't rolled up their sleeves just yet weigh their options.

"We expect all of our patients will after discussion and understanding beyond what's in the news and what's on Twitter and Facebook, that they will see the importance of the vaccine and will receive it," said Dr. Bailey.

Bailey said transplant patients are more likely to get very sick from COVID or even die if they're not vaccinated. He said that's because they're typically dealing with multiple health issues and have a weaker immune system because they're on anti-rejection medication following a transplant.

"Before the vaccine was available, we have certainly seen very severe disease and death in the post-transplant population," said Dr. Bailey.

UC Health in Colorado is one of several transplant centers across the nation requiring most transplant recipients and living donors get the COVID-19 vaccine. Cleveland Clinic also recently decided to require transplant recipients and living donors to get the vaccine.

However, other health systems like UPMC and the Pittsburgh VA Medical Center aren't making the COVID shot a requirement for people on the transplant list. Meantime, UPMC says it's doing outreach and making vaccines readily available for everyone.

KDKA's Amy Wadas asked Dr. Bailey if he foresees a mandate happening in the future. He said he doesn't see any dramatic changes on the horizon.

Allegheny Health Network issued this statement:

"AHN's transplant programs are committed to providing patients with all the information and guidance they need to give them the best chance of having a long term successful outcome following transplantation surgery. The heightened risk of the COVID-19 virus for those who have underlying chronic health conditions, such as organ failure, and for those who are immunocompromised is well established and we strongly encourage all of the patients we care for in the transplant program, including those waiting for a donor organ and those who have received one, to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Currently the vast majority of the patients in our abdominal and cardiovascular transplant programs have heeded that recommendation, and we take every opportunity to reinforce with those who haven't the importance of doing so. We have no immediate plans to change our criteria for evaluating and placing patients on the waiting list, but will continue to stress the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine for both our listed and post-transplant patients."

UPMC issued the following statement:

"UPMC continues its vaccine advocacy and outreach efforts and makes vaccines easily and readily available for all. We do not have a policy regarding COVID-19 vaccination requirement for transplant candidates."

WVU Medicine also says it currently doesn't have any rules in place for unvaccinated transplant patients at WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital.

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