Navigating the coronavirus pandemic is difficult for everyone, but brings special challenges for transplant patients. UNOS Chief Medical Officer David Klassen, M.D., answers questions for patients about COVID-19 and the waiting list, inactivation, donor testing and other important topics.
Frequently asked questions
Are all transplant programs changing appointments/clinics/lab tests?
Each program is making decisions based on the availability of staff to help you and their assessment of the risk to you of continuing these services in the short term. In some cases, programs are temporarily postponing some services or making new arrangements (such as telemedicine appointments) in the interest of patient safety.
Your transplant team is the best source of information regarding their current schedule and arrangements. Keep in mind that they may continue to be adjusting them to meet new needs. If you have a scheduled appointment or procedure, you may wish to contact them in advance to see if anything has changed.
If I do not get labs or other testing as scheduled, will that affect my listing status?
The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network has temporarily changed policy requirements for transplant programs. If the program can’t perform a test because of COVID-19, or if it believes doing a test right now would expose patients to unnecessary risk, the program may instead submit the most current results available for you. Doing so will not affect your current listing status.
This is a temporary measure. Once testing can be performed routinely nationwide, programs will be expected to resume their normal schedule.
What happens if I am temporarily put in an inactive status? Do I lose any priority on the waiting list?
Some transplant programs, using their medical judgment, are determining it is best not to currently accept organ offers for some transplant candidates. This is based on the relative risk of your potential exposure to the virus during and soon after surgery as compared to your current level of urgency for a transplant.
A temporary inactivation does not mean that you are removed from the waiting list. It means that for a period of time determined by the transplant program, you would not be considered for organ offers. The transplant program may reactivate you at any time they believe they can resume transplanting patients as usual.
If you are awaiting a kidney and/or pancreas transplant, or if you have a child younger than age 12 needing a lung transplant, the priority you accrue based on waiting time will continue as long as you remain inactive. When you are reactivated you will keep all the waiting time you have gained.
If you need a different organ type, or you are a lung candidate older than age 12, you only accrue waiting time while you are in an active listing category. In this case, your transplant program may temporarily change the settings of organ offers it will accept for you. That will allow you to remain active and continue to gain waiting time. You would, however, not be considered for organ offers until the program resets the criteria.
Your transplant program can discuss with you your current status and any conditions where they believe it is best to not accept organ offers for you for a limited time.
Are programs doing living donor transplants?
Most programs have fully resumed doing living donor transplants after initially postponing them. Your transplant team is best able to advise you on their current status and plans to resume operations.
Earlier, some transplant programs temporarily postponed some or all living donor transplants. This was partly due to the availability of resources in the hospital for the surgery and immediate follow-up and partly to minimize the potential risk of exposure to the virus.
Is there guidance on organ donor testing?
Are people who have had COVID-19 eligible to be organ donors?
Yes people who have had COVID and have recovered can be donors.
People who have active COVID are generally not considered as donors.
This is addressed in the Summary of Evidence document posted by the Disease Transmission Advisory Committee. Read more on UNOS news item.
If my relative or friend needs a transplant, or just had a transplant, can I visit them at home or in the hospital?
In general, you should follow current medical recommendations for social distancing. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is continually updating its COVID-19 resource page with guidance and information. If you have specific questions about contact, your friend or loved one’s transplant team may offer more guidance.
Keep in mind that all transplant recipients take medicine to prevent organ rejection. That same medication may lower their normal immune response to common illnesses. People who have recently had an organ transplant often are on higher doses of these medications and must take additional precautions to lower their risk of infection.
Even if you are unable to visit them close and in person, you can continue to show your support and caring by sending them a card or gift, a call or video chat, or supporting them on social media.
Risk of transmission
Risk of transmitting disease through solid organ transplantation is very low. In April 2021, the OPTN Disease Transmission Advisory Committee released a Summary of Current Evidence and Information about donor testing and organ recovery from donors with a history of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 website provides the most up-to-date information regarding recommended precautions, global risk assessment, and travel.
- AST statement on vaccination in solid organ transplant recipients (5/7/2021) new
- American College of Cardiology: Tips and considerations (3/5/2021)
- AST: Vaccine FAQ (updated 5/17/2021)
- AST: Vaccination guidance (updated 3/18/2021)
- CDC: Key things to know (updated 5/23/2021)
- VCU Health: Is vaccination safe?
The American Society of Transplantation (AST)
- Transplant community FAQ resources for professionals, transplant candidates and recipients (regularly updated)
- Recommendations and guidance for organ donor testing
- Spanish resources (Recursos en Español) new
AST: Handouts for recipients and candidates You’ll find:
- Home monitoring for exposure or infection
- Home monitoring guide and log
- What should I do if I have COVID-19?
- Safer living: Tips for transplant patients
National Kidney Foundation
- Information and resources for patients and caregivers
- Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society: COVID-19 resources
- Pediatric Transplant Conference recordings from the inaugural conference hosted by Transplant Families new
- Children with solid organ transplant or heart failure FAQs (ACTION Learning Network)
- What parents should know (ACTION Learning Network)
COVID-19 and transplant
Jan. 20, 2021: Answering the vaccine-related questions you have been asking, UNOS Chief Medical Officer David Klassen, M.D., addresses COVID-19 concerns for organ donation and transplantation.
- In your professional opinion, should transplant patients and/or those on the waitlist take the COVID-19 vaccine?
- Why are transplant recipients not in a higher phase for COVID-19 vaccines?
- Could the COVID-19 vaccine be harmful to an organ recipient?
- I’m a living donor who is currently undergoing testing to donate an organ. Can I take the COVID-19 vaccine?
- What are the potential risks associated with COVID-19 and receiving a living transplant?
- I need an organ transplant, but my local transplant center isn’t currently performing living donations due to COVID-19. What can I do?
- Are COVID-19 deceased donors eligible to donate organs? I’m concerned about contracting the virus.
Coronavirus and Kidney Patients
A webinar, sponsored by the American Society of Transplantation and American Society of Transplant Surgeons, provides in-depth answers to COVID-19 patient questions for recipients and candidates. Watch the recording.
American Association of Kidney Patients webinar, “Coronavirus and Transplant Patients: Get the Facts, Save a Life.”
Learn important information regarding the impact of COVID-19 on kidney transplant recipients and individuals waiting for a kidney transplantation. Find out what questions, you as the patient, should be raising to your care team. Emily Blumberg, MD and Lloyd Ratner, MD, MPH, FACS will lead the webinar. Watch the recording.
Transplant Families webinar, “COVID-19 Q&A for pediatric patients”
Transplant Families, in partnership with several pediatric transplant centers and professional organizations, hosted a COVID-19 Question & Answer session to help address parental concerns as it pertains to the virus and pediatric transplant community. Watch the recording.
“The transplant community shares the common goal of saving as many lives through transplantation as possible.”
Brian Shepard, CEO, United Network for Organ Sharing