By Zachary Stieber
A new bill in Congress would ban federal funding for institutions that deny care to patients for not having a COVID-19 vaccine, after multiple patients in the United States seeking transplants have been rejected over their vaccination status.
The 2-page bill states that “no funds authorized or appropriated by Federal law, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are authorized or appropriated by Federal law … shall be made available to a facility that refuses to provide treatment to an individual based on the COVID-19 vaccination status of such individual.”
The legislation is called the COVID-19 Vaccination Non-Discrimination Act.
“No American should be denied access to critical care based on a personal medical decision, yet tragically, many hospitals and other medical facilities continue to discriminate against those unvaccinated for COVID-19,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a doctor who cosponsored the legislation, said in a statement.
He said that the bill “will protect the rights of vulnerable patients to make their own health care choices and ensure that federal taxpayer dollars do not support facilities that turn away patients based on their COVID-19 vaccination status.”
“There’s no reason that medical facilities should deny care to people based on their COVID-19 vaccination status, and there’s certainly no reason for institutions that do so to receive any federal funding. Unfortunately, this is happening far too often, including in my home state of North Carolina. The COVID-19 Vaccination Non-Discrimination Act will remedy that injustice, and affirms that people have the right to make their own medical decisions,” Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.), who introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives, added.
Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) are co-sponsors of the Senate bill.
Multiple patients in the United States have been denied transplants during the pandemic because of their refusal to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
James Jooyandeh, a U.S. Army veteran, was denied a lung transplant because he declined to get vaccinated.
“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,” a doctor at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Wisconsin that was treating Jooyandeh wrote to him.
Other patients have been removed from waiting lists due to their vaccination status.
DJ Ferguson, 31, for instance, was removed in 2022 from a heart transplant waiting list by Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Other patients have been unable to get transplants even though they’re vaccinated because their donors have not received a shot.
The Cleveland Clinic, for instance, told a man in 2021 he wouldn’t be able to receive a kidney because his donor was unvaccinated. The clinic also refused to undertake a kidney transplant for a 9-year-old boy because his father, the donor, refused to get a vaccine.
Both COVID-19 infections and vaccinations can trigger organ transplant rejections, studies show.
Some cases have gone to court. Ross Barranco, a 73-year-old Michigan man, is among those who have brought litigation over being rejected for a transplant.
“To qualify for a transplant, both of my kidneys have to be functioning at 20 percent or less. What if the vax destroys the remaining function before the operation? If it does, I’m done,” Barranco told The Epoch Times.
Fate of Legislation
Democrats control the Senate, with 51 seats held by Democrats or nominal independents who caucus with the party.
No Democrats are co-sponsors of the new legislation.
Republicans control the House after flipping a number of seats in the midterm elections.
Bills typically require 60 votes to pass the Senate and a simple majority to pass the lower chamber.
Republicans during the pandemic have generally been supportive of individual choice and freedom to remain unvaccinated while Democrats have generally supported restrictions and mandates, including vaccine mandates.
Democrats, though, have shown an increased appetite to turn back restrictions and mandates in recent months.
Party members, for example, helped insert a provision in the defense funding bill that forced the military to repeal its vaccine mandate, which had remained in place since its imposition in August 2021.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said at the time that the mandate initially made sense but did not any longer, given the primary series of a vaccine provides little to no protection against infection.
President Joe Biden signed the bill despite opposing the inclusion of the mandate repeal, according to the White House.
Biden imposed or directed the imposition of a number of mandates, including ones for federal workers, federal contractors, and all health care workers at facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding. Most have been struck down or suspended by courts. The health care one is one of the few still in effect.