Blood banks are urging people to give blood this summer to replenish supplies missing from cancelled blood donation events since the shelter-in-place order took effect. Vitalant, (previously Blood Centers of the Pacific), had nearly 280 blood drives cancelled in the San Francisco Bay Area by May 21, resulting in 7,000 uncollected units of blood.
“In the San Francisco Bay Area Vitalant needs about 500 donations per day for the approximately 50 hospitals we serve,” says Kent Corley, Marketing and Communications Specialist for Vitalant in Santa Rosa. “When it became common knowledge in March that we were in a pandemic the first affect was that companies that had scheduled blood drives with us started cancelling the drives.”
While the blood banks take donations at its centers, their core supply used to come from being out in the community seven days per week with their blood mobiles, at school auditoriums, in corporate conference rooms, at community centers and churches. Being in many different locations in the community made it convenient for donors. However, quarantining and social distancing has now made most of these events impossible to execute.
Critically important are platelet donations, which only have a shelf-life for five days, versus the 42 day shelf life of whole blood. Platelets are always needed by patients for cancer treatments, surgeries, and emergencies. With four main blood types, A, B, AB and O, and each type having a positive and negative, there are eight groups in total that need blood donations. Currently there is an especially high need for type O, A-negative and B-negative red blood cells.
Fortunately, shortly after the shelter-in-place orders went into effect, demand for blood decreased, with less accidents and trauma situations happening, no elective surgeries taking place and even some other procedures postponed during the first few volatile weeks.
“Since the shut-down was so complete, on a national level, what we didn’t expect to happen was that the patients who needed blood in hospitals also turned off, significantly,” says Corley. “All the elective surgeries didn’t happen, many cancer patients who usually need platelets and other immune compromised individuals also delayed treatments for a while.”
However, as individuals return to work and other activities, and elective surgeries now reinstated, demand is increasing again, despite blood banks not being able to use their mobile blood donation vehicle at events nor holding many of the usual blood drives at schools and corporations.
“Since June 1 we’ve seen about a 25 percent increase in the need from hospitals,” says Kevin Adler, Vitalant Marketing and Communications Manager for the Bay Area. “But a lot of the obstacles of trying to collect [blood] are still in place. We’re still not able to collect with blood mobiles and a lot of businesses are unable to hold blood drives at their locations. They don’t want to have large gatherings.”
As of June 1, Vitalant became the first national blood bank to test all blood donations for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. The organization provides donors with the test results, in addition to their normal full panel of tests that Vitalant regularly performs on blood donations.
“We always took people’s temperature and blood pressure and we test hemoglobin levels,” says Corley. “Once you make a blood donation, they’ll have a platelet count as part of your donation. You will learn that about yourself. All the donors get a health history that’s online on your account.”
The antibody test will show if a donor’s immune system produced antibodies to the virus, regardless of whether or not they showed symptoms. While a positive antibody test does not necessarily mean that someone is immune to Covid-19, it does mean that they may be eligible to donate convalescent plasma in the future and help people with the disease. Convalescent plasma, the liquid part of blood that is collected from patients who have recovered from COVID-19, has antibodies, or proteins, that might help fight the infection.
Vitalant urges everyone to give blood as soon as possible, and even better, to become a regular donor. Blood can be donated every 8 weeks, and platelets can be donated 24 times per year. The typical Covid-19 related safety precautions are in effect, such as temperate checks at check-in, social distancing within the center and mask requirements. In addition, Vitalant strongly recommends making an appointment online versus walking in, to make sure appointments are staggered to ensure social distancing measures. Visit vitalant.org to make an appointment to donate and save someone’s life today.