The learning curve of COVID-19 and organ donation: Potential missed opportunities in the COVID era

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Background: Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, positive COVID-19 status often disqualified potential organ donors due to perceived risks, despite limited evidence. Subsequent studies have clarified that the COVID-19 status of donors, particularly when incidental and not the cause of death, does not adversely affect non-lung transplant outcomes. This study quantifies the potential loss of eligible organ donors and the corresponding impact on organ availability during the initial phase of the pandemic. Methods: In this retrospective analysis, we examined deceased donor referrals to a major organ procurement organization from June 2020 to January 2022. Referrals were categorized as All Referrals, Medically Ruled Out (MRO), or Procured Donors (PD). We used Chi-square tests for categorical comparisons and logistic regression to model additional donors and organs, contrasting COVID-negative and positive cases within age-matched cohorts. Results: Among 9478 referrals, 23.4 % (2221) were COVID-positive. Notably, COVID-positive referrals had a substantially higher MRO rate (80.6 % vs. 29.6 %, p < 0.01) and a markedly lower PD rate (0.2 % vs. 8.2 %, p < 0.01). Potential missed donations of 103 organs from COVID-positive referrals were identified. Conclusion: This OPO-level study demonstrates a substantial impact of COVID-19 status on organ donation rates, revealing significant missed opportunities. Improved management of donor COVID-19 status could potentially increase organ donations nationwide, taking into account evolving evidence and vaccine availability changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere32086
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 15 2024


  • COVID-19
  • Organ donation
  • Organ procurement organizations
  • Pandemic impact on health services
  • Retrospective studies
  • Transplant outcomes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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