US experiencing a blood shortage

The United States is experiencing a blood shortage due to mass cancellations of blood drives amidst concerns over large gatherings of people during the covid-19 pandemic. According to the FDA, every two seconds a patient needs a blood transfusion, and the Red Cross is expressing a need for lifesaving blood supplies. 

“At the beginning of the pandemic, thousands of blood drives were cancelled around the country which led to the call to action for blood donors and blood drive hosts,” Regina Boothe Bratton, Red Cross External Communications Manager, said. “Many blood drives are canceled because of the uncertainty over COVID-19. Some are canceled for other reasons, perhaps there’s an issue with space.”

Dede Greenfield
DONATING BLOOD INOVA Blood Donor Service is one place where volunteers can give blood to help alleviate the blood shortage and save lives. 

The Red Cross, which collects about 40 percent of the country’s blood, reported on March 17 that nearly 2,700 blood drives had been canceled across the country, resulting in 86,000 fewer blood donations. Most of the canceled drives were supposed to be held at workplaces, college campuses, and schools—many of which shut down in mid-March, preventing the drives from occurring. 

Fortunately, the shortage has eased in recent weeks due to a flood of volunteers. “It was because of the generosity of everyday heroes—blood donors who partnered with us—that enabled us to overcome the severe shortage from weeks ago” Boothe Bratton said. 

There were so many volunteers in fact, that appointment spots became hard to come by. Campbell Walsh, a Blair alum, and her mother Patrice Walsh tried to donate blood in mid-March, but could not schedule an appointment because there were no available spots.

“[Campbell] went online and found out that we could be a walk in because all the appointments were booked,” Patrice said. After about four hours, the volunteer in charge of the drive was able to fit in Campbell but told Patrice he did not think he could get her in that day. “They advertised they do accept walk-ins, but they didn't realize that they would be overwhelmed. Plus with the social distancing, no one can wait,” Patrice added. 

To keep donors and staff safe, The Red Cross has implemented new protocols for collecting blood. “[The volunteer running the drive] would tell people to wait in their car, and he would actually direct people where to sit,” Campbell said. “It was a very clean and socially distanced process… There were no more than five people in the lobby at a time, and people were at least six feet apart at all times.”

When junior Abby Kusmin went to give blood with her mother, she also noticed the safety measures in place. “We had masks on because they sent us a reminder to bring masks,” Kusmin said. “They took our temperature at the door, and then they gave us hand sanitizer.” 

One way the federal government has acted to reduce the shortage is by revising an FDA guideline that bans blood donations from men who have had sex with other men within the last 12 months. On Apr. 2, the FDA revised the guideline, created during the HIV/AIDS crisis, to a three month deferral period in an attempt to alleviate the blood shortage. Many doctors are now calling for an end to the ban altogether as they argue it is based more on stigmas than science. 

“It seems like just that stigma is lingering and that's why this policy is still there,” Dr. Monica Hahn, who specializes in HiV Prevention and Management, said to Good Morning America. “There's really no scientific reason anymore, in my opinion, to have this ban at all since our testing capacity has been truly revolutionized.”

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