Coronavirus responses have severely impacted the U.S. blood supply as Vitalant and other blood centers across the country are struggling to maintain stable inventories and avoid a critical blood shortage.
With school closures and workers at home, 25% of Vitalant’s blood collections anticipated in March have disappeared—almost overnight. And that number continues to grow.
Through the end of June, Vitalant—the nation’s second largest blood collector—has had over 1,400 blood drives canceled, resulting in nearly 41,000 uncollected blood donations.
Many state and local governments have barred people from leaving their homes, except for essential functions. FEMA has specifically identified blood donation as an “essential and integral component of the emergency support function” as ongoing guidance from government entities recommend that people avoid gatherings and practice social distancing, and, in some states, “shelter in place”. But blood drives are not gatherings: they are blood donation operations that are key to our public health and safety.
In a March 19 letter to all emergency management agencies, FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor stressed: “Donating blood is a safe process and people should not hesitate to give. Blood drives have the highest standards of safety and infection control.”
“Just as the social distancing guidance recommends that it’s okay for people to leave home for necessities like groceries, or a doctor’s visit, or the pharmacy—donating blood is a necessity.” – Pete Gaynor, FEMA
Last week, Dr. Jerome Adams, U.S. Surgeon General, said Americans need to donate blood to help stave off deaths caused by the pandemic. “One person giving blood can help up to three people and possibly save a life,” he said. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has cautioned against non-essential travel and gatherings, Dr. Adams encourages healthy people to visit blood donation sites. “Social distancing does not need to mean social disengagement. You can still go out and give blood. One thing we should all consider, especially our Millennials and Gen Zs, is donating blood…as an essential part of caring for patients….”
It is extremely important right now for healthy people to make a blood donation appointment by calling 877-25-VITAL (877-258-4825) or going online to bloodhero.com. To care for patients, people should give blood, keep scheduled blood drives and organize blood drives in the coming weeks.
“Our blood collection sites are a ‘first response’ action to this outbreak versus a gathering that needs to be avoided,” said Dr. Ralph Vassallo, Vitalant’s chief medical and scientific officer. “If you’re healthy, you’re needed now more than ever. We cannot let it get to the point where there’s no blood available for trauma patients, those undergoing cancer treatment and patients who need regular, ongoing blood transfusions just to survive.”
Sick people should not donate blood; blood centers do not test for COVID-19 or the virus that causes it. Blood centers have always required individuals to be in good health to donate, and the blood collection process follows policies established by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure the health and safety of donors and patients.
Vitalant staff follow rigorous safety and disinfection protocols at its blood drives and donation centers. Giving blood has no impact on the donor’s immune system.
Currently, all blood types and components are needed, with a critical need for platelets and type O blood donations. Platelets have a very short shelf life—only five days. Type O-negative blood is the universal blood type: ER doctors reach for it first to help stabilize patients before their blood type is known.
Vitalant continues to closely monitor the situation and will quickly implement any necessary changes as new information emerges from the CDC and FDA.