Most of us will never need a transplant, but for the people who do, transplants can be lifesaving.
After transplant operations, recipients are told to follow a strict drug regimen to make sure their organs are not rejected by their own immune system. Rejection can result in transplant failure and necessitate removal of the donor organ.
Despite adhering to drug protocols, rejections can still be triggered can be due to the patient’s own health conditions, infections, and also vaccinations.
Vaccines and infections can activate the immune system and cause it recognize transplanted organs as non-self and mount an attack.
The COVID-19 vaccines have been increasingly reported in association with various organ rejections, including cornea, kidney, liver, lung, and pancreas.
Since the vaccines rolled out in 2021, the United States’ vaccine pharmacovigilance database, Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) has documented 57 cases of transplant failures, complications, and rejections following COVID-19 injections. This is a significantly high number considering that only 92 cases of organ transplant rejection, complication, or failure after any vaccine have been reported in VAERS history.
Corneal Graft Rejection Events
A recently published Japanese study found that at least 21 patients (23 eyes affected) have experienced corneal transplant rejections following COVID-19 vaccination.
“Despite the low occurrence rates of high-risk complications after vaccination, an appreciable number of vaccine recipients have experienced a wide range of post-vaccination symptoms,” the authors wrote, voicing their concern.
Cornea grafts are considered as some of the safest transplant operations, with a low risk of rejection since the transplanted tissue and its grafted site is immune privileged, meaning that there is generally a lower immune response induced after corneal transplants.
However, cornea rejections have been the most documented organ rejection following COVID-19 vaccinations.
Eight corneal graft rejections have been reported in VAERS following COVID-19 vaccinations, a significant number considering only 13 cases of corneal graft rejection have been reported in the history of VAERS for all vaccines.
Dr. Winston Chamberlain, head of the Corneal and Refractive Division at the Oregon Health and Science University published a case of a corneal graft rejection with his colleagues in February 2022.
The patient was a 27-year-old woman who developed acute corneal rejection two weeks after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. She received the transplant over four years ago and had a stable clinical history with no history of rejection.
Chamberlain told The Epoch Times that there could be a variety of reasons behind these rejections, but there is currently too little data to come to any definite conclusions.
“Unlike solid organ transplants and other parts of the body, the largest majority of corneal transplant patients are not receiving systemic immunosuppression,” Chamberlain said.
“They’re on a local shower of topical steroids, which causes a local immune suppression effect.”
Given that some cases of COVID-19 infections involved transmission through the eye, this transmission pathway could also play a role, Chamberlain said.
In the case study, Chamberlain and his colleagues speculated that the COVID-19 vaccine upregulates the immune system through the adaptive immune response, and the vaccine “may potentially be associated with increased risk of rejection in those with ocular surface transplants,” the authors wrote.
Nevertheless, Chamberlain said that rejection episodes occurring following COVID-19 vaccinations are very low.
“If you take all patients with corneal transplants who have corneal transplant rejections after getting vaccinated with a COVID vaccine, or actually any vaccine, the rate would be well below 1 percent,” he said.
While rejection episodes are events of significant concern, with the risk of reduced visual acuity as well as blindness. They are far less common than other transplant complications such as cataracts, glaucoma, bleeding, and many others.
The authors of the Japanese study also agreed that vaccine-associated corneal graft rejection is “modest” when compared to the frequency of corneal transplants, with a 2016 global survey finding 184,000 cornea were transplanted in that year.
However, they argued that the projected “societal shift towards a more frequent vaccination schedule calls for clinicians to be cognizant of a possible connection between the temporality of vaccine administration and graft rejections.”
Studies have also reported corneal graft rejections following influenza vaccinations, though the flu vaccine is still recommended by clinicians.
Chamberlain said that since vaccine-associated rejection cases are so low, he has not observed any differences between rejections that occurred after COVID-19 vaccines and rejections associated with other vaccines.
Kidney and Liver Rejections
Kidney, liver, lung, and pancreas rejections have also been documented after COVID vaccination, albeit in lower numbers.
A South Korean study reported an acute kidney rejection that occurred in a woman 15 days after her second Pfizer vaccination. The patient had been transplanted over 13 years ago and had no history of acute rejections before.
An Australian study reported liver rejection in three transplanted women within two weeks of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination “without any alternate identifiable precipitant for rejection,” the authors wrote.
Two of the patients—aged 48 and 20 respectively—recovered from the rejection. However, the third patient, aged 24, who received her transplant seven years ago, experienced transplant failure and later contracted COVID-19. She died from COVID-19 complications.
“The temporal relationship between receipt of the vaccine, onset of symptoms, and subsequent liver biochemistry derangement is highly suggestive that the vaccine was at least partially responsible for the onset of rejection,” the authors wrote.
Much fewer cases of other transplant organ rejections including those of the lung and pancreas were also reported.
Rejections From COVID-19 and Other Vaccines
SARS-CoV-2 infection can also lead to complications in transplanted patients, including rejection episodes as well as complications from infections.
Studies have also documented transplant recipients experiencing organ rejections coinciding with COVID-19 infections.
A study documented a patient who received a corneal graft, but contracted COVID-19 three months later, resulting in rejection of the graft that was later controlled. Lung transplant rejections coinciding with COVID-19 infections have also been published.
Organ rejections occurring following other vaccinations such as influenza vaccines have been routinely documented to be associated with organ rejection episodes and failures including the cornea, lung, and many more.
Dr. Timothy Pruett, advisor to the American Society of Transplant Surgeons (ASTS), and a transplant surgeon specializing in liver transplants told The Epoch Times that it is a balance between vaccination for immunity and immunosuppression to prevent rejection.
Since transplanted individuals are immunosuppressed from taking drugs that weaken the immune system to prevent it from attacking the donated organs, transplant recipients have a high risk of infection and succumbing to disease.
Their doctors will therefore encourage them to take vaccines to build some immunological memory against diseases to prevent them from succumbing to infections.
But vaccinations can also put them at risk of rejection due to an activated immune system, albeit a small risk. Since these risks are small, the general recommendation for transplant recipients is to get vaccinated.
Live attenuated vaccines, however, such as measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and varicella (chicken pox) which contain live but weakened viruses are not recommended, as these vaccines can cause infections, and the immunosuppressed recipients’ immune systems may not be able to clear them.
Why Are We Seeing Organ Transplant Rejections?
Both Pruett and Chamberlain speculated that the COVID-19 vaccines could be causing inflammation or the administration of non-self materials in the vaccines are naturally triggered an immune response, leading to rejection in some transplant individuals.
Yet for the retired Thai-German microbiologist Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi, former chair of Medical Microbiology at the University of Mainz from 1990 to 2012, there is a very clear rationale behind the rejection.
Bhakdi said that the systemic uptake of the spike protein vaccines from cells across the body are leading to a systemic immune attack of blood vessel cells and organs.
“The MHC (Major Histocompatibility Complex) Class 1 molecule, this is the transplantation antigen [triggering the rejection] … [It] was defined 50 years ago,” Bhakdi told The Epoch Times.
All cells have MHC class 1 molecules on the surface, and these are different across different people. When a transplant recipient receives an allograft—organ from someone who the recipient is not genetically identical to—their immune system will recognize that the organ to be non-self and attack the organ, leading to transplant rejection, then failure.
This is why transplant recipients take drugs that suppress their immune system to prevent rejections and failures from happening.
In the case of SARS-CoV-2 vaccinations, it is generally understood that the vaccine hijacks the cell’s transcription and translation system and causes the cell to start making spike protein.
These spike proteins will be presented on the cellular surface, leading to recognition by the immune cells to be non-self, and therefore launching an attack against these cells.
Though this was to be expected, and is what happens in infections, Bhakdi said on a World Council for Health video that, contrary to the mainstream narrative during the vaccine rollout, the cellular hijacking and spike protein production is not restricted to the injection site which are the deltoid muscles, but travels through the circulatory system, contacting the blood vessels and the organs the vessels supply.
“The primary attack in transplant rejection is the vessel wall, not the liver cell, not the lung cells, but the vessel cell, and when the vessel is damaged … then you have your clots, you have your leakage, you have your oxygen supply that is broken down and you have rejection and you kill your organ,” he told The Epoch Times.
Already, in February 2022, a study authored by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital found the S protein circulating in the plasma, a liquid component of the blood, within one day of receiving a Moderna vaccination.
While that may not show a systemic production of spike protein, a German study has found spike protein and spike protein genetic material in cardiomyocytes (heart cells) of people who have experienced myocarditis.
These are suggestive that the COVID-19 vaccines have traveled into the heart, resulting in spike protein production and leading to inflammation as well as possible immune response against these cells.
“You don’t have to have this [the vaccines] going into the liver cell … because the moment the vessel wall is damaged, these vaccines are going to leak out through the vessels to the liver cells, the lungs, the heart, they will expressed [the vaccine materials] and these cells are then going to come under a second attack,” said Bhakdi.
Bhakdi said that whether a transplant recipient experiences rejection or not is purely dependent on the actions of their blood vessel cells.
Bhakdi and Dr. Michael Palmer have recently published a study claiming there is “irrefutable proof,” that the [COVID-19] vaccines causes vascular and organ damage.
The study was based mostly on the works of German pathologists Dr. Arne Burkhardt and Dr. Walter Lang.
Bhkadi and Palmer analyzed pathology photos from autopsies of people who reported adverse effects following COVID-19 vaccination. They found spike protein presented on the surface of cells that line the blood vessels, lungs, and the heart. These cells were surrounded by immune cells, mounting an attack against them for presenting spike protein on cell surfaces.
Bhakdi and Palmer determined that these cells could not have been infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as those infected cells will not only present spike proteins but also other SARS-CoV-2 proteins including nucleocapsid on their surfaces while these cells only showed spike protein.
The authors determined that:
1. mRNA vaccines don’t stay at the injection site but instead travel throughout the body and accumulate in various organs.
2. mRNA-based COVID vaccines induce long-lasting expression of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein in many organs.
3. Vaccine-induced expression of the spike protein induces autoimmune-like inflammation.
4. Vaccine-induced inflammation can cause grave organ damage, especially in vessels, sometimes with deadly outcomes.
“It is known that the benefit to risk is virtually zero,” Bhakdi said.
COVID Unvaccinated Denied Organ Transplants
Since the mandates of COVID-19 vaccinations, some hospitals and healthcare guidelines have required individuals to be vaccinated in order to be put on the waiting list for organ transplants.
The Epoch Times reported in June 2022 about a veteran named James Jooyandeh.
Jooyandeh was denied a referral for a lung transplant and a religious exemption for COVID-19 injection by the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in Wisconsin where Jooyandeh has been treated for the past several years.
“Unfortunately, we are unable to offer lung transplant as a treatment option for you due to your unwillingness to receive recommended routine health maintenance, including your vaccinations, which is an absolute contraindication to lung transplantation at our center,” wrote Jooyandeh’s physician Dr. Samir Sultan, a transplant pulmonologist with the VA hospital in Wisconsin, and Dr. James Maloney, chief of surgical services at the Veterans Hospital.
“One of the side effects that was just released was interstitial lung disease and that’s what we have,” Deborah Jooyandeh, wife of Jooyandeh told The Epoch Times, “So why would he take a vaccine that causes what’s killing him?”
Jooyandeh is one of the many unvaccinated people who have been denied potentially life saving organ transplants due to their vaccine status.
Some transplant surgeons and ethicists argued that mandating COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare workers and transplant candidates are ethically justified, implying that it is permissible to refuse organ transplants for patients if they do not vaccinate.
Dr. Lainie Ross from the University of Chicago wrote in her opinion article (pdf) that some healthcare workers see vaccine refusal as a sign of non-adherence and therefore patients are at risk of not following strict regimen following transplant. Recipients are also seen as “wasting” the organ if not vaccinated, as they may die an earlier death.
Vaccine requirements for organ referrals and transplants are not new, because once transplanted, immunosuppressive drugs will make the recipient more susceptible to infections. Vaccines for hepatitis A, influenza, and others are often recommended before transplant surgery, with most patients being compliant.
But it is a first to mandate vaccines for organ transplants and referrals, considering most clinicians still do not understand the effects of mRNA vaccines in the long-term. Nevertheless, years of recommending vaccines have led to the same impulsive reflex for COVID-19 injections.
“[It’s] a really touchy issue,” said Pruett. “Our goal of transplantation is to provide a good life for people and to use the resources that we have which are relatively scarce organs, use them appropriately for our population.”
“You do better if you have some immunity to something than if you don’t have immunity to it. So that’s the rationale for giving a vaccine … My personal preferences [are that] everybody should be vaccinated.”
But Pruett said that he was against vaccine mandates for organ transplants, and has since published articles voicing his opinion.
“I have trouble personally with the idea of mandates … because it also goes against my whole idea that the people who come to me for care, have a right to either take my advice or not take them. That’s the whole premise of informed consent.”
Ross also wrote that whether a patient refuses vaccinations or not, “physicians have a fiduciary responsibility to act in patients’ medical best interests,” and that the unvaccinated being at risk for COVID-19 is “morally irrelevant.”