No heart transplant without COVID vaccine: Is Boston hospital right?

Tracey Ferguson / AP

Fact Box

  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital denied 31-year old DJ Ferguson a heart transplant after evaluating his medical records showing he was unvaccinated. On January 25, 2022, he received a mechanical heart pump that should give him another five years of life. 
  • For transplant candidates, the hospital requires several CDC-recommended vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccine, lifestyle behaviors, and other medical factors to “create both the best change for a successful operation and to optimize the patient’s survival after transplantation” in accordance with the with the American Society of Transplantation. 
  • According to the Health Resources & Services Administration, 106,698 people are on the national transplant waiting list. Each day, 17 people die waiting for an organ transplant. 
  • As of January 28, 2022, there are 211.3 million people fully vaccinated (63.7%) while 75.1% have one dose.

Andrew (Yes)

Speaking for his son, DJ, David Ferguson explained that his son 'doesn't believe in the vaccine.' There is a long waiting list of people in need of a heart transplant. Therefore, the hospital is correct in denying the organ to an individual who has been so cavalier with his own health and those around him by remaining unvaccinated despite overwhelming evidence that the vaccines are safe and effective. 

Organs are a precious commodity, and according to Brigham and Women's Hospital, '[the hospital does] everything we can to ensure that a patient who receives a transplanted organ has the greatest chance of survival.' Since it has been well documented that unvaccinated people have a slightly higher chance of death from COVID-19 than vaccinated people, the hospital's decision is clearly in line with their policy. The recovery time for a heart transplant is very long. During that time, an unvaccinated person would be at great risk for catching COVID-19, especially because they would likely be in and out of the hospital for checkups. 

This decision communicates to the wider public that if one chooses to remain unvaccinated, putting their community at risk, they will not be eligible for potentially lifesaving treatments. This isn't about creating two classes of people; it's about prioritizing people who have been responsible and protected themselves and those around them by getting vaccinated.

Finally, this sends a message to healthcare workers that the lifesaving work they do every day isn't wasted. Frontline healthcare workers have had a grueling two years working hard to save the lives of people who deny basic science. This decision says the hospital will not waste precious resources on the irresponsible.

Curtice (No)

Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital's decision to remove DJ Ferguson, a 31-year-old father of two, from a waitlist for a heart transplant due to his unvaccinated COVID-19 status is morally unconscionable. It flies in the face of every medical professional's Hippocratic Oath to first 'do no harm.'

DJ's mother stated that her son is not opposed to vaccines but is concerned the COVID-19 vaccine would complicate his heart condition. He's been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation—an irregular and often rapid heart rhythm. That is not an unreasonable concern, given that myocarditis has been shown to be a side effect of the vaccines. Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle and has been reported to have occurred following COVID-19 vaccinations, primarily in male adolescents and young adults. A recent study determined that the risk of myocarditis is 133 times greater following COVID vaccinations. 

Add to that the fact that even the CDC now acknowledges that natural immunity was more effective than vaccines alone during the Delta wave. All of this is valuable data that should be acknowledged, but these Boston doctors are seemingly playing politics with a man's life. In what other area of medicine can medical professionals turn away someone who's deemed 'too unhealthy' for a lifesaving procedure? They would rightfully be questioned on their ethics if they refused to deny treatment to the morbidly obese or those who smoke.

World governments, including the US, have often applied a 'one-size-fits-all' approach since early in the pandemic. That is not only insane but immoral, often causing as much or more harm than not. Patients should be respected to make medically informed decisions, and DJ's is nothing short of rational.

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