US hospital patient without Covid-19 vaccine denied heart transplant

Boston hospital says other transplant programmes in the US also require vaccination to ensure patient survival

DJ Ferguson is initially treated at Milford, Massachusetts Regional Medical Centre, on November 27, 2021.  AP

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A US hospital is defending itself after a man’s family claimed he was denied a new heart for refusing to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

The hospital, in Boston, said most transplant programmes around the country set similar requirements to improve patients’ chances of survival.

The family of DJ Ferguson, 31, said in a crowdfunding appeal this week that officials at Brigham and Women’s Hospital told the father of two that he was ineligible for the procedure because he had not been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Mr Ferguson's mother, Tracey Ferguson, insists that her son is not against vaccinations as he has had other immunisations in the past.

But the trained nurse said at her home in Mendon, about 48 kilometers south0-west of Boston, that he had concerns about the side effects of the Covid-19 vaccines.

“We are literally in a corner right now. This is extremely time sensitive,” the family said in a Tuesday update to its fundraising appeal, which has raised tens of thousands of dollars.

“This is not just a political issue. People need to have a choice.”

Brigham and Women’s Hospital declined to comment on DJ Ferguson’s case because of patient privacy laws.

But on its website it said the Covid-19 vaccine is one of several immunisations required by most US transplant programs, including a flu shot and hepatitis B vaccines.

The hospital said research showed transplant recipients are at higher risk than non-transplant patients of dying from Covid-19, and that its policies are in line with the recommendations of the American Society of Transplantation and other health organisations.

Patients also must meet other health and lifestyle criteria to receive donated organs, and it is not known if DJ Ferguson did or would have met them.

There is a scarcity of donor organs, so transplant centres only place patients on the waiting list if they are considered to be the most likely to survive with a new organ.

Brigham said no patient was placed on an organ waiting list without meeting those criteria, and rejected the notion that a transplant candidate could be considered “first on the list” for an organ, which the Ferguson family claimed in its fundraising post.

“There are currently more than 100,000 candidates on waitlists for organ transplantation and a shortage of available organs," the hospital said. "Around half of people on waiting lists will not receive an organ within five years."

Hospitals in other states have faced similar criticism for denying transplants to patients who were not vaccinated against Covid-19.

In Colorado last year, a woman suffering from late-stage kidney disease said she was denied a transplant by her hospital because she was unvaccinated.

Leilani Lutali, a born-again Christian, said she opposed immunisation because of the role that foetal cell lines play in some vaccines’ development.

The United Network for Organ Sharing, the non-profit organisation that manages the country’s organ transplant system, does not track how many patients refusing to get a Covid-19 vaccine have been denied transplants, said spokeswoman Anne Paschke.

She said patients who were denied organ transplants still had the right to go elsewhere, although individual hospitals ultimately decide which patients to add to the national waitlist.

According to the online fundraiser, Mr Ferguson was initially treated at a hospital in Milford, Massachusetts, in late November for what the family thought was severe pneumonia but turned out to be heart failure.

His family said he has a hereditary heart issue that caused his lungs to be filled with blood and fluid and required immediate surgery.

Mr Ferguson was then transferred to Brigham and Women’s, where doctors inserted an emergency heart pump after another medical setback.

The family said the pump is only temporary and that it is still weighing its options, including transferring him elsewhere to try to get a transplant.

“I want to add that despite the decision of the transplant board, he is in the best place possible,” the family said. “His nurses and doctors have been nothing but compassionate and amazing to him.”

Updated: January 27, 2022, 12:50 AM