Georgia House Passes Bill Prohibiting Vax Bias Against Transplant Candidates

The NIH says that 36 percent of organ transplant centers require patients to have had COVID shots in order to be placed on a waiting list.
Georgia House Passes Bill Prohibiting Vax Bias Against Transplant Candidates
Dane Donaldson (R) with his wife Jenn and sons Ryder (C) and Tanner, 9 years old at the time, when the Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital denied him a kidney transplant from his father in 2022. (Courtesy of Dane Donaldson)
Alice Giordano
With the support of two Democrats, The Republican-led Georgia House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit health-care providers from discriminating against organ transplant list patients  based on their COVID-19 vaccine status.
HB576, which passed by a 98–71 vote, comes after years of heart-rending stories from around the United States about unvaccinated patients who were denied transplants.
One involved a 41-year-old Georgia mother of seven who was told she could not have a kidney transplant unless she took the vaccine, which she refused, citing religious convictions.

The bill’s primary sponsor, State Rep. Joe Gullett, said at a hearing ahead of the House vote that the bill is intended to end discrimination against transplant patients who choose not to get the COVID shot.

“Decisions, especially in matters as critical as organ transplants, should be based on a comprehensive assessment of an individual’s risks and not solely on vaccination status,” he said.

With Georgia having a Republican trifecta, the bill stands a good chance of passing the Senate, although it faces stiff opposition.

During a recent floor debate on the bill, Rep. Jasmine Clark, a Democrat, called it a “dangerous bill” that promotes wasting an already scarce inventory on patients who are not taking optimum care of a donated organ “in exchange for politics.”

“We do not have an unlimited stockpile of organs waiting for a body to be transplanted into,” said Ms. Clark. “ That’s not how organ transplantation works.”

More than 100,000 people are waiting for “that phone call” that a matching organ donor has been found, she said.

“So when we give an organ to someone we want to make sure that it will go to someone who will take all the necessary precautions to live a healthy life. We want the best outcome for that outcome, because, once we give it to them, we can’t give it to someone else,” she said.

According to Give Life America, 17 people die every day waiting for an organ transplant while eight new people are added to the national transplant waitlist.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 36 percent of organ transplant centers require patients to have had COVID shots in order to be placed on a waiting list.

For example, a 9-year-old boy was denied a life-saving kidney transplant from his father in 2022 because the dad was not vaccinated against COVID-19.
Dane Donaldson was found to be a perfect match for his son Tanner in early 2018 by the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital before the pandemic.

No Shot, No Kidney

The family decided to wait a little longer before having Tanner undergo the transplant since transplanted kidneys from a live donor only last about 20 years. Then COVID-19 hit and put a freeze on the procedure.
In 2022, the hospital declined to do the procedure, citing Mr. Donaldson’s vaccination status.

Republican State Rep. Matthew Gambill, who voted for the Georgia bill, testified that he had a 74-year-old constituent who was taken off the candidate list for a kidney transplant after opting against the vaccine because of health concerns over other preexisting medical conditions.

Some have chosen not to take the vaccine for religious reasons while still others have declined it for fear it might cause more harm than good.

On Feb. 15, the European Heart Journal published a peer-reviewed study that concluded the COVID vaccine increased the risk of myocarditis in people ages 12 to 39.

The American College of Cardiology, which promotes the vaccine, has disputed the claim. It states that the SARS-CoV-2, the medical term for COVID virus, causes more myocarditis than the vaccine.

But even proponents of the shot have turned up evidence that it is not providing protection for patients on the waitlist for an organ transplant.

A 2021 study by Johns Hopkins University showed that after being “fully vaccinated” against COVID, only  50 percent of patients with an immunocompromised condition produced an antibody response to COVID-19.

“We’ve been studying transplant patients and people with autoimmune conditions since December 2020, when the FDA granted the vaccine’s emergency use authorization. In transplant patients in particular, the antibody response to vaccines is blunted,” the University’s School of Public Health wrote.

The Georgia Senate has until March 28, when its session ends, to vote on the House bill.

If the Senate passes the bill and it is signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, Georgia will become the first state to enact a law specifically prohibiting discrimination against organ transplant list patients based on COVID-19 vaccine status.

Several states have banned COVID vaccine requirements for the condition of employment or to attend a public school. New Hampshire and Texas both enacted laws against any government-run healthcare facility requiring the COVID vaccine for patients, but private hospitals in the states can still mandate the shots as a condition for treatment.

Some hospitals have voluntarily dropped the requirement, many under threat of a lawsuit.

Last year, the University of Michigan changed its COVID vaccine mandate policy for transplant patients to recommended and voluntary. The move came after Pacific Justice Institute (PJI)  filed a civil rights lawsuit against the hospital accusing it of violating the religious liberty of two patients.

Two Catholics had been removed from the recipient list after refusing the vaccine on the grounds that the shots were derived from fetal cell cultures.

Liberty Counsel, a conservative legal group, also sent Emory Healthcare, Georgia’s largest transplant center, several religious exemption requests from the COVID vaccine after the health provider refused to include unvaccinated patients on the transplant recipient list.

In 2022, a group of congressmen sponsored a federal bill to enact a nationwide ban to prevent transplant centers from using a patient’s COVID vaccine status as a deciding factor in putting them on a waiting list for a donor.

The Stop Arduous Vaccine Enforcement Act (SAVE) remains in committee.