LYNNWOOD, Wash., December 1, 2021 – At the end of September 2021, The American Red Cross announced it was experiencing its most significant blood shortage since 2015. According to the organization’s press release, donor turnout reached the lowest levels of the year, decreasing about 10% since August. The American Red Cross went on to urge all who are eligible to donate to “do so now.”
“We recognize that this is a trying time for our country as we balance the new demands of returning to former routines with the ongoing pandemic,” said Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Biomedical Services. “[B]ut lifesaving blood donations remains essential for hospitals patients in need of emergency and medical care that can’t wait. The Red Cross is working around the clock to meet the blood needs of hospitals and patients – but we can’t do it alone.”
The press release noted how the demand for blood is beginning to outpace the supply, explaining that blood product distribution is “significantly outpacing blood donations in recent weeks.”
As President Hrouda mentioned, the pandemic seems to be deterring donations. Earlier this year, the American Red Cross made a video response to questions about COVID-19 vaccination status and donor eligibility.
Clearing up the confusion, Rodney with the American Red Cross says in the video that “if you received a COVID-19 vaccine, there’s no wait period to donate blood as long as you know the name of the manufacturer.”
For those who don’t know the name of the vaccine they received, such as Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson, Rodney says, “we’ll ask you to wait two weeks just out of precaution.”
Vaccinated and donating convalescent plasma
In addition to blood donations, there is an increased need for convalescent plasma, which is blood plasma derived from patients who have recovered from COVID-19. In August of last year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an Emergency Use Authorization to allow the use of convalescent plasma to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
The FDA revised the EUA in February 2021 “to limit the authorization to the use of high titer COVID-19 convalescent plasma” — or a greater concentration of the specific antibody in the plasma — “for the treatment of hospitalized patients early in the disease course.”
While those who have received a COVID-19 vaccine can donate blood, they cannot donate convalescent plasma, according to the Association for the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies’ (AABB) latest updates regarding the matter. According to the FDA, this is “to ensure that COVID-19 convalescent plasma collected from donors contains sufficient antibodies directly related to their immune response to COVID-19 infection” (see item d. of page 7. of the FDA’s Investigational COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Guidance for Industry).
Local Blood Donation Efforts
Locally, there is still a great need for blood donations. “We have declined slowly because of COVID-19. We just need to get back to those high numbers, so we need more donors to come in,” said Baylee Farr-Smith at Lynnwood Blood Works.
According to Farr-Smith, there is an additional need during this time of year due to the hazards winter often brings. “The holidays are always the greatest need just in case because accidents always happen with the winter and the snow,” she said.
“But we always need those donations because they go to local hospitals here in Washington for cancer patients, surgeries, organ transplants, etc.”
A phone operator named Anna at the Everett Blood Works echoed the same sentiment, saying that donations are always running low.