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How the Organ Donation and Transplant Community Thrived in a Pandemic


As we have confronted the many challenges of COVID-19, the story of the organ donation and transplant community has been a welcome bright spot.


Brian Shepard

CEO, United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS)

Despite the pandemic, deceased donor organ transplants have continued to rise through 2021. In fact, the United States is on pace to top 40,000 transplants in a single year for first time, a historic milestone.


Nearly 35,000 organ transplants have been performed in the United States as of mid-November, according to data from United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which serves as the engine that powers the national organ donation and transplant system.

This is a dramatic turn of events from where we found ourselves at the beginning of 2020.

Overcoming a pandemic

There was a significant drop in transplants caused by the pandemic beginning in the middle of March of 2020. However, dedicated healthcare workers across the country made adjustments, collaborated and learned, and worked tirelessly, even putting their own lives at risk. The system soon rebounded, and high numbers of transplants during the remainder of 2020 offset the pandemic-induced drop earlier in the year. There were 242 more donors in the first half of 2020 than in the first half of 2019.

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2020 marked the 10th consecutive record-breaking year for organ donation from deceased donors and the eighth in a row for deceased donor transplants, and we are on track to make even more history at the close of 2021. Additionally, the national waitlist for all organs is at its lowest volume since 2009.

We can thank dedicated transplant teams, hospitals, medical professionals, advocates, patients, donors, and their families for adapting quickly, being flexible, and working collaboratively to save lives, even during the worst pandemic in living memory.

But there is more work to do. UNOS’ goal is to provide an organ for every person in need.


Policy changes

There are additional, ongoing efforts that will further improve the donation and transplantation landscape and result in better outcomes for patients.

In early 2021, after months of collaboration, input, and feedback, we implemented a new policy to make sure kidneys get to even more of the sickest patients, regardless of where they live. Increasing geographic equity is just one more step toward improving our already high-performing system.

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A report released in October revealed good news for those awaiting a kidney transplant. The numbers indicated that after nearly four months of the policy being in effect, transplants increased for all ethnicities, for different blood types, for children in need of a transplant, and for those who have spent longer times on dialysis. The report also found a 22 percent increase in kidney transplants across the nation compared to the same period before the policy change.

While these results are promising, patients across the nation are counting on us to do even better. It’s for them that we unite the diverse organ donation and transplant community, and it’s why we’re committed to driving innovation. As an advocate for the more than 100,000 patients on the waiting list, we invite you to join us in saving more lives by becoming an organ donor. Please take a moment to learn about the organ donation and transplantation and then register at to be an organ, eye, and tissue donor.

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