ATHENS — The case of a 3-year-old boy from Cyprus who was initially denied treatment in foreign hospitals because his parents were unvaccinated has raised concerns about whether doctors should be allowed to turn away patients.
After three countries refused to treat the boy, he is now in Greece awaiting surgery.
The boy, who has not been named, was hospitalized with serious heart disease. As Cypriot hospitals were unable to perform the necessary procedure, the health ministry arranged for the boy to be taken by air ambulance to Germany last Thursday.
However, the day before the transfer was supposed to take place, the hospital in Frankfurt informed the Cypriot authorities that it would not be going ahead because the boy’s parents had not had the COVID-19 vaccine.
Cyprus suggested that the child could be accompanied by a legal guardian instead of his parents but this suggestion was turned down.
A German health ministry official confirmed there is no rule that says hospitals cannot treat unvaccinated people, let alone children whose parents are not vaccinated. However, the official added that each hospital has its own restrictions and makes its own arrangements with patients.
“Health policies — including vaccination policies — and their concrete implementation are the responsibility of the member states, not the Commission,” said a spokesperson for the European Commission’s health department.
The Cypriot authorities tried to get specialized health centers in the United Kingdom and Israel to perform the operation but were turned down for the same reason given by Germany.
However, the child was airlifted to neighboring Greece on Saturday and will get the operation at a private hospital in Athens, according to the Cypriot health ministry’s director general, Christina Yiannaki.
The parents were both vaccinated on Thursday, but they would still have to wait six weeks before being accepted by the foreign hospitals and the child has to be operated upon immediately.
“I know that unvaccinated patients are admitted to hospitals in Germany,” said the boy’s father, Alexey Matveev, a Russian national living in Cyprus. “I didn’t know that I had to be vaccinated for my child being to be operated on in that hospital. If I knew it of course I would have done it … I am healthy and did not want to be vaccinated. I find it inappropriate for someone who is healthy to be vaccinated.”
Yiannaki said the parents had been informed ahead of time of the need for vaccination.
Cypriot officials said they had suggested the parents get the single dose J&J vaccine, to speed up the process, but they refused. Matveev rejected that claim, and said they had received the Pfizer vaccine on the advice of the German medical center.
The child had another operation in the summer, but only a PCR test was then required for the parents to accompany him, according to Avraam Elia, director of the pediatrics clinic in Makarios hospital, where the child was hospitalized. Cypriot authorities have said they warned the parents that the rules could change and that vaccination might be required.
The case of the toddler highlights the ethical issue of whether doctors should turn away unvaccinated patients or, in this case, unvaccinated parents.
A hospital in Boston in the U.S. rejected a 31-year-old patient for a heart transplant at least in part because he is not vaccinated against coronavirus, his father said.
Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston took DJ Ferguson off their transplant list, saying in a statement to the BBC that because of a shortage of available organs, they have to do everything they can “to ensure that a patient who receives a transplanted organ has the greatest chance of survival.”