HealthcareLocal NewsCook Children’s Denies Requiring COVID-19 Vaccine for Organ Transplant Patients

A local mother says the hospital bumped her son to the inactive waitlist because he has not received a COVID-19 vaccine.
February 24, 2022
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Texas mother Kristen Haugen made news last week when she said the hospital that has treated her teenage son since he was an infant now refuses to provide a kidney transplant since he has not been vaccinated for COVID-19.

In a story originally reported by The Texas Scorecard, Haugen says the transplant team at Cook Children’s Medical Center will not put unvaccinated patients awaiting a transplant on the “active” waiting list.

“The transplant coordinator told us that, you know, ‘Just so you know, there are people on the transplant committee that do not see transplant as a patient right, but that he can just be on dialysis.’ So, we said okay. And at that point, honestly, I just thought they might be bluffing. … I didn’t know how they were going to do it. But they did inform us that this could keep him from getting listed. We just hoped it wouldn’t,” Haugen told The Texan.

“Then, like probably a few weeks later, I get a phone call from the transplant coordinator that basically said, ‘Hey, Kristen. Wanted to give you a heads up that the transplant team has decided not to actively list any patients that are not vaccinated with the COVID-19 vaccine.’ […] A couple weeks later, we got an official letter.”

Kim Brown, a media relations spokesperson for Cook Children’s, said she couldn’t speak to the topic specifically but denied that the hospital enforced a vaccine requirement for transplant patients.

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“There is no such policy,” Brown told The Texan.

However, Haugen provided pictures of a conversation she had with a transplant coordinator on September 23 who confirmed the transplant committee’s decision to put unvaccinated candidates on the “inactive” list.

“At this time due to the high viral load in the community, candidates that aren’t vaccinated won’t be placed as ‘active’ on the UNOS wait list unless they are fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Candidates could be placed on the list as ‘inactive’ until they are fully vaccinated or the community threat decreases,” the coordinator’s response reads.

“The team also is reinforcing the point that transplant is a treatment option for patients with renal failure. Dialysis is also an option. Transplant is an elective procedure that needs to be done in safe circumstances to avoid post-transplant complications that could possibly lead to losing the kidney.”

Haugen also provided a letter she says Doss received from the transplant team, though it lists neither a name nor a return address.

“Due to the current community COVID viral load, the availability of the COVID vaccine and Doss’ current clinical status is [sic] was decided by the transplant team that the risk outweighs the benefit of transplant at this time,” the letter reads.

The nephrology team could not be reached by phone. The webpage that formerly listed the team members no longer functions.

According to Kristen, Doss underwent surgery in the womb and was born with kidney failure. Kristen donated her kidney to Doss for a transplant performed at Cook Children’s just before he turned two.

She further claims that Doss’s unvaccinated status has created other obstacles in the hospital to otherwise routine procedures, even including lab work.

“The phlebotomist, whom we adore, she said, ‘Well, hang on. I’ve got a discrepancy with the lab. I need to call the doctor’s office to make sure it’s right,’” Haugen said, describing an encounter in the hospital when she was taking Doss to have his blood drawn.

“And she came back in and said that the transplant coordinator said, ‘No, do not draw his labs.’ And, at the time, my son was having some issues that needed to be monitored by lab work. Well, he always needs to be monitored by lab work. But at that time, it was pretty critical that I get his labs drawn.”

Haugen said she would prefer to avoid dialysis for Doss since he’s a minor, calling it “an absolute last resort.”

Hospitals around the country have been denying transplants to candidates for being unvaccinated for COVID-19, from Colorado to Boston to Virginia. In fact, several Texas politicians, including Governor Greg Abbott and state Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), invited Colorado candidates to receive their transplants in Texas, touting the state’s protection of “rights and freedoms.

The letter Haugen says her family received from the transplant team is attached below.

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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.