NEWS
December 22, 2021

Blood Donations Reach 10 Year Low Amid Extreme Shortages

Blood Donations Reach 10 Year Low Amid Extreme Shortages

Each year, an estimated 6.8 million people in the U.S. donate blood according to the American Red Cross. At least that was the number of donors prior to the pandemic. Now, the number is barely half that - and most of the donors are healthcare workers. Currently, America is in one of the worst blood shortages in over a decade. 

The pandemic has disrupted many aspects of our everyday lives, especially for healthcare providers. There is a nursing shortage, ICU beds are limited, medical care is being rationed - to name a few - but, a blood shortage? While this may not seem like the most pressing of matters, in fact, it might just be one of the most underreported and most severe consequences of the pandemic. 

For months, the American Red Cross has urged Americans to donate blood if eligible because this isn’t just something that has occurred over the last month or two. No, it has been an ongoing cumulative effect that has only become increasingly more urgent and more severe. 

In a recent press release, the American Red Cross said, “Donor turnout has reached the lowest levels of the year, decreasing by about 10% since August.” Without an influx in donations, blood will continue to be rationed throughout the country. As a result, cancer patients may not get the blood transfusions needed during chemotherapy, sickle cell patients won’t get transfusions to alleviate ongoing pain and a potential crisis, and most importantly trauma patients may result in massive hemorrhages because of the limitation of available blood products. 

Importance of Blood Donation

Most individuals will never need a blood transfusion during their lifetime; however, blood availability can be key to the survival of trauma patients, cancer patients, those needing surgery, and more commonly those with sickle-cell disease. 

The American Red Cross reports that every 2 seconds someone in the country needs blood. Unfortunately, as the number of donors continues to dwindle - the blood that is available is being rationed so that all patients requiring a transfusion have blood available. Despite this, there is still a desperate cry for donations. 

  • About 45% of people in the U.S. have Group O (positive or negative) blood; the proportion is higher among Hispanics (57%) and African Americans (51%).
  • A single-car accident victim may require as many as 100 pints of blood.
  • Blood can’t be manufactured synthetically.
  • Less than 38% of Americans are eligible to give blood at any given time.
  • More than 38,000 blood donations are needed every day. 
  • Sickle cell disease affects over 80,000 people in the U.S. 98% of whom are African American. Sickle cell patients can require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lives. 
  • The average red blood cell transfusion is approximately 3 pints.
  • There are more than 1 million new cancer diagnoses each year and many require blood, sometimes daily, during chemotherapy treatment.
  • Type AB plasma can be transfused to patients of all blood types. Since only 4% of people in the U.S. have type AB blood, this plasma is usually in short supply.
  • Type O negative red cells can be given to patients of all blood types. Because only 7% of people in the U.S. are type O negative, it’s always in great demand and often in short supply.

Desperation

In September, the Red Cross had less than a day’s supply of certain blood types over the course of several weeks. The supply of types O positive and O negative blood, the most needed blood types by hospitals, dropped to less than a half-day supply at times over the last month. This has not changed. In the past month, the supply continues to be the lowest it possibly can be. 

The Monday prior to Thanksgiving, Tower Health reported blood supplies are at a critical low. Rami Nemeh, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Miller-Keystone Blood Center said, “ Our blood inventory is only at 35% of the ideal level; 450 donors are needed every day to support the needs of our hospitals, please make your appointment today and become a hero.” An emergency blood drive was held but that barely yielded enough blood to climb out of the critical inventory levels. 

Overall, new blood donors are down 34% due to the decrease in local blood drives, especially at universities and churches. The Eastern New York Red Cross Region experienced a 25% decrease in new blood donors while Kansas & Oklahoma Red Cross Region has experienced a 23.5% decrease in new blood donors this year.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have experienced challenges collecting blood for patients from blood drive cancellations to surging hospital demand. Now with decreased blood donor turnout, our Red Cross blood supply has dropped to the lowest it has been at this time of year since 2015,” said Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Biomedical Services. 

“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, but lifesaving blood donations remains essential for hospital’s 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 Red Cross needs to collect an additional 10,000 units of blood each week for the remainder of the year to begin to put a dent in the ongoing blood shortage. And local chapters are pulling out all the stops to get their local communities to donate. Some are offering Amazon gift cards, free lunches, gas cards, and other incentives. 

Other chapters are reminding donors exactly where their donation is going, whether to a specific hospital or “types” of patients. “We want to make sure that people have a concrete idea of where their blood is going and what it’s doing. Not just that they’re spending an hour on a cot having their blood taken and then forget about it. We want people to know how it’s benefiting other people,” says Jim McIntyre, the Red Cross’ Northern Ohio Red Cross communications director. 

Eligibility

There are several different types of blood products that you are able to donate. The requirements for each vary based on the type of donation. These are the specific requirements according to the American Red Cross. 

Whole Blood Donation Requirements: 

  • Donation frequency: Every 56 days 
  • You must be in good health and feeling well
  • You must be at least 16 years old in most states
  • You must weigh at least 110 lbs

Power Red Donation Requirements: 

  • Donation frequency: Every 112 days, up to 3 times/year
  • You must be in good health and feeling well
  • Male donors must be at least 17 years old in most states, at least 5'1" tall and weigh at least 130 lbs
  • Female donors must be at least 19 years old, at least 5'5" tall and weigh at least 150 lbs

Platelet Donation Requirements: 

  • Donation frequency: Every 7 days, up to 24 times/year
  • You must be in good health and feeling well
  • You must be at least 17 years old in most states 
  • You must weigh at least 110 lbs

AB Elite Plasma Donation Requirements: 

  • Donation frequency: Every 28 days, up to 13 times/year
  • You must have type AB blood
  • You must be in good health and feeling well
  • You must be at least 17 years old
  • You must weigh at least 110 lbs

While the above requirements may seem fairly simple, there are many factors that preclude from any blood product donation. These may include, but are not limited to: 

  • Illness
  • Infection
  • IV drug use
  • Low iron
  • Male/Male Intercourse (First-time male donors may be eligible to donate blood if they have not had sex with another man in more than 3 months.)
  • Medications
  • Pregnancy and nursing
  • Recently tattooed 
  • Travel outside the U.S. 

A full FAQ regarding limitations to donation can be found here on the American Red Cross website.

Those who are eligible are urged to share their good health – please schedule an appointment to give blood or platelets as soon as possible by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). All blood types are needed.

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