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Colorado hospital system says it won't perform transplants on unvaccinated patients

The Colorado hospital system UCHealth said in order to protect patients, it is requiring COVID-19 vaccination for transplant recipients and donors "in almost all situations."

"For transplant patients who contract COVID-19, the mortality rate ranges from about 20 percent to more than 30 percent," UCHealth told CBS Denver in a statement. "This shows the extreme risk that COVID-19 poses to transplant recipients after their surgeries." In Colorado, 62.05 percent of residents are vaccinated.

Leilani Lutali has stage 5 renal failure, and met her kidney donor, Jaimee Fougner, at Bible study. Lutali and Fougner are not vaccinated, with Fougner saying she doesn't want to get the vaccine for religious reasons. In September, UCHealth sent them both a letter about the vaccination policy, saying they had 30 days to get their first dose. If they refuse, Lutali and Fougner will be removed from the transplant list.

"I said I'll sign a medical waiver," Lutali told CBS Denver. "I have to sign a waiver anyway for the transplant itself, releasing them from anything that could possibly go wrong. It's surgery, it's invasive. I sign a waiver for my life. I'm not sure why I can't sign a waiver for the COVID shot." So far, Lutali and Fougner haven't been able to find any other hospital in Colorado that will perform the transplant while they are unvaccinated.

UCHealth said shots are nothing new for transplant recipients — most receive vaccinations, like MMR and hepatitis B, as a way to increase the likelihood that the transplant will be successful.