The American Red Cross is facing a national blood crisis – its worst blood shortage in over a decade, posing a concerning risk to patient care. Amid this crisis, doctors have been forced to make difficult decisions about who receives blood transfusions and who will need to wait until more products become available. Blood and platelet donations are critically needed to help prevent further delays in vital medical treatments.
“While some types of medical care can wait, others can’t,” said Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the Red Cross. “Hospitals are still seeing accident victims, cancer patients, those with blood disorders like sickle cell disease, and individuals who are seriously ill who all need blood transfusions to live even as Omicron cases surge across the country. We’re doing everything we can to increase blood donations to ensure every patient can receive medical treatments without delay, but we cannot do it without more donors. We need the help of the American people.”
The Red Cross asks the country to roll up a sleeve to help ensure people receive the care they need. Make 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)
The Red Cross has experienced a 10% decline in the number of people donating blood since the beginning of the pandemic and continues to confront relentless issues due to the pandemic, including ongoing blood drive cancellations and staffing limitations. Adding to the concern is the surge of COVID-19 cases. The Red Cross has experienced low donor turnout ever since the delta variant began spreading in August, and that trend continues as the Omicron variant takes over.
All types are needed now, especially types O positive and O negative, as well as platelet donations, to help reverse this national blood crisis. If there is not an immediate opportunity available to donate, donors are asked to make an appointment in the days and weeks ahead to ensure the Red Cross can replenish and maintain a sufficient blood supply.
Blood Donation Challenges
Supplying 40% of the nation’s blood, the Red Cross has had to limit blood distributions to hospitals in recent weeks. In fact, on certain days, some hospitals may not receive as much as one-quarter of the blood products requested. Blood cannot be manufactured or stockpiled and can only be made available through the kindness of volunteer donors.
All of this comes as January marks National Blood Donor Month, a time to raise awareness about the need for blood donations when regular seasonal illnesses like colds and the flu, as well as winter weather often leads to a decline in donations.
“Every community in America needs blood on a daily basis. At a time when many businesses and organizations across the country are experiencing pandemic challenges – the Red Cross is no different. And while we are all learning how to live in this new environment, how we spend our time, where we work, how we give back, how we make a difference in the lives of others – donating blood must continue to be part of it,” added Dr. Young.
As the nation faces the latest challenges of this pandemic environment, there may not be an immediate appointment available or an individual may be asked to reschedule an appointment — but the Red Cross still needs donors.
The Personal Impact of Blood Shortages
Kristen Mill of Spring Grove, Illinois, suffers from ongoing health problems caused by a tick bite in 2008. Her body doesn’t produce enough hemoglobin to carry oxygen in her blood, and when her hemoglobin levels drop, blood transfusions are essential for her to survive. She has needed weekly transfusions to treat this condition for much of the summer and fall of 2021.
On a recent visit to the hospital for a transfusion, she was told the hospital had no blood that matched her blood type and she would have to wait until the right match became available.
“The hospital came to me and they apologized, and they said, ‘We’re so sorry, our blood bank is depleted to the point where we don’t have anyone that matches with you,’” said Kristen. “It’s very scary, especially if you don’t know if the blood is coming, because this is something that you need to live.”
Unfortunately, Kristen has had to wait for blood on multiple occasions in recent weeks. “It has become quite common that I would have to wait two or three days for blood. Then my condition would get worse, and I’d need to be hospitalized while waiting for blood. It usually took two days, sometimes three days, which is a long time when you are waiting for something that could save your life,” said Kristen.
Kristen worries that the next time she needs blood, it may not arrive in time to keep her alive. After seeing firsthand what a blood shortage means, she has become an advocate for blood donation.
“I don’t want this to happen to other people,” Kristen said. “There is nothing greater you can give someone than the gift of life. To have people donating lifesaving blood is just incredible and essential.”
Blood Drive Volunteers Needed
In addition to blood donors, the Red Cross also needs the help of volunteers to support critical blood collections across the country. Blood drive volunteers play an important role by greeting, registering, answering questions and providing information to blood donors throughout the donation process. Blood transportation specialists – another volunteer opportunity – provide a critical link between blood donors and blood recipients by delivering blood to hospitals in communities across the country. To volunteer to support Red Cross blood collections, please visit redcross.org/volunteertoday.
COVID-19 Safety Protocols
Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control. Individuals who have received a COVID-19 vaccine are still eligible to donate blood and platelets. Knowing the name of the manufacturer of the vaccine they receive is important in determining blood donation eligibility.
About Blood Donation
A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.