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Woman misses life-saving surgery after turning down Covid-19 jab for religious reasons

By , People Daily Digital
Friday, October 8th, 2021 10:56 | 2 mins read
Doctors operate on a patient. Photo/PD/Courtesy

When a Colorado woman found out her hospital wouldn’t approve her kidney transplant surgery until she got the COVID-19 vaccine, she was left with a difficult decision pitting her health needs against her religious beliefs.

Leilani Lutali, a born-again Christian, went with her faith.

Even though she has stage 5 kidney disease that puts her at risk of dying without a new kidney, Lutali, 56, said she could not agree to be vaccinated because of the role that stem cells have played in the development of vaccines.

“As a Christian, I can’t support anything that has to do with abortion of babies, and the sanctity of life for me is precious,” she said.

UCHealth requires transplant recipients to be vaccinated because recipients are at significant risk of contracting COVID-19 as well as being hospitalized and dying from the virus, spokesman Dan Weaver said.

Unvaccinated donors could also pass COVID-19 to the recipient even if they initially test negative for the disease, he said.

“Studies have found transplant patients who contract COVID-19 may have a mortality rate of 20% or higher,” he said.

It’s not clear how common this type of policy is.

The American Hospital Association, which represents nearly 5,000 hospitals, health care systems, and networks in the United States, said it did not have data to share on the issue.

But it said many transplant programs insist that patients get vaccinated for COVID-19 because of the weakened state of their immune system.

While any type of surgery may stress a patient’s immune system and leave them vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 later, organ transplants recipients are even more at risk because they have to take a powerful regime of drugs to suppress their immune system to keep their body from rejecting the new organ, which is seen by the body as a foreign object, Nancy Foster, AHA’s vice president for quality and patient safety policy said in a statement.

“Further, if patients were to wait to get their vaccine until after the surgery, it is unlikely that their immune system could mount the desired antibody reaction given that they are taking anti-rejection medications,” she said.

Transplant centers in Washington, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Alabama have policies requiring that recipients be vaccinated, according to news reports.

Cleveland Clinic recently decided to require COVID-19 vaccinations for both transplant recipients and living donors, the organization said in a statement.

Some health care systems recommend or strongly encourage vaccination for transplants, including the Mayo Clinic and Sentara Healthcare, two of the nation’s largest.

The University of Alabama Birmingham’s School of Medicine transplant program only recommends that living donors receive a vaccine, but it does not require it for the donation process.

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