UCHealth’s transplant policy should reassess the unvaccinated

UCHealth’s decision to inactivate a candidate for a kidney transplant over her choice not to be vaccinated against COVID-19 sparked furor last week. UCHealth should be applauded for its science-based decision, and it could end up paving the way for healthcare providers across the country.

It should also be another data point for stubbornly unvaccinated people to reconsider their positions.

Disabling transplant candidates at the expense of counterproductive choices is nothing new. Drinking a few cold beers would drop a candidate off the liver transplant list. Refusing to quit smoking would prevent you from having a new pair of lungs. A diet rich in bacon, no matter how appetizing, is a sure-fire way to stop someone from having a heart transplant.

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Lack of COVID-19 vaccination is just another necessary screening protocol.

As I wrote last week, unvaccinated people experience statistically worse health outcomes. This is not a subjective statement; it is a mathematical conclusion.

It is also exactly the kind of data that guides policy decisions for healthcare providers. Not only do they need to create non-subjective criteria for determining who gets their limited resources, but they also need to be realistic about who will benefit the most and the inherent risks to their patients.

From a strictly legal standpoint, this would border on the negligence of a hospital to perform a procedure on a patient 10 to 20 times more likely to die from a post-operative infection that could be alleviated by a simple injection. These are not the types of risks that most hospitals are willing to take.

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Of course, the transplant candidate in question erupted in rage. Not only did she accuse the hospital of discrimination, but she enlisted a state official to her cause. Representative Tim Geitner proceeded to blame the feet of Governor Jared Polis, a non sequitur of gargantuan proportions.

I’m still trying to figure out how Geitner balances his anti-government positions – his social media feeds include several anti-foreclosure posts – with the idea that the governor should fit into the political decisions of a private company. Or if he thinks the governor should dictate health care decisions?

What is the next? Geitner leaning over an operating table explaining to a surgeon how to make an incision?

The real woman at the center and her reaction are more worrying. Leilani Lutali cited her religious beliefs as justification for not being vaccinated. Despite the fact that many religious leaders advocate vaccination, and faith-affiliated hospitals inoculate thousands of patients daily, it is not fruitful to debate personal beliefs. If she says she sincerely believes COVID-19 vaccinations go against her faith, I accept it.

But Lutali would have to accept that his choice had consequences.

Far too many anti-vaccination individuals seem intent on avoiding the personal responsibility that comes with this choice when it affects them negatively. From unvaccinated patients begging doctors for the vaccine to those on the wrong side of rationed care, it seems many failed to realize that their choice could have a negative personal impact.

Although they seem comfortable making a choice that is detrimental to public health – for whatever reason – outrage and anger ensue when the consequences of that choice become personal. It is contrary to responsibility.

I’m pessimistic that stories like Lutali’s will change a lot of mind. On the contrary, I think it will spark further resentments and perceived slights. It is sad. Such reactions could prevent people from accessing health care and cost lives.

However, this may cause some people to reconsider their choice and rebalance the potential of their perceived costs and benefits. If so, and it leads to increased vaccination rates, it would be better for our condition as a whole.

Mario Nicolais is a lawyer and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the justice system, healthcare and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq

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