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Major hospital systems in Ohio requiring Covid vaccinations for organ transplants

The vaccine mandates apply to patients and living donors, according to officials with the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals.

The Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals, two of the largest health care systems in Ohio, are requiring Covid-19 vaccinations for solid organ transplants.

The recently announced mandates will apply to patients and living donors prior to the procedures, according to statements from the health care providers.

Patients on a waiting list for organ transplantation from a deceased donor have until Nov. 1 to become vaccinated, or they will be considered “inactive on the waiting list,” the Cleveland Clinic said in a statement Monday.

“Vaccination is particularly important in these patients for their safety,” the statement said. “Living donation for organ transplantation has been a life-saving treatment, but it is not without risks to the donor. For the living donor, reducing the risk of a COVID-19 infection around the time of their surgery and recovery is crucial."

In addition to a major operation for recipients, medications taken following an organ transplant can weaken a patient’s immune system. Serious complications from Covid are more likely to develop in people who have weakened immune systems, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Officials with University Hospitals said in a statement on Friday they were guided by medical studies pointing to the serious risks organ recipients face if they contract coronavirus.

“Vaccination is particularly important in these patients for their safety," the statement said. "Transplant recipients are required to take medications to prevent organ rejection which weakens the immune system. For living donors, prevention of COVID around the time of surgery is essential.”

The Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals are joining a growing number of the more than 250 organ transplant programs across the country that have chosen to bar patients who refuse to take the widely available Covid vaccines.

Other transplant centers are making unvaccinated candidates a lower priority, while some programs planned no restrictions.

Transplant centers evaluate which patients are allowed to be placed on the national list, considering medical criteria and other factors, such as financial means and social support to ensure that donor organs won't fail.

At issue is whether transplant patients who refuse the vaccine are not only putting themselves at greater risk for serious illness and death from Covid infections, but also squandering scarce organs that could benefit others.

As of last week, nearly 107,000 candidates in the country were waiting for organ transplants.