April 13, 2024
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Blood banks report severe shortages


With winter storms across the country and the recent COVID-19 surge, a “national blood crisis” is stressing the fragile health system devastated by the pandemic and prompting nonprofits leading collection efforts to put out a call for blood donations.

Vitalant, the nation’s largest independent nonprofit blood bank, said in a Jan. 10 news release that it’s facing a “historic, two-year low blood supply.” The organization collects blood from volunteer donors and serves about 900 hospitals across 28 states, including California.

Vitalant said the fast-spreading omicron variant is the latest COVID-19 complication resulting in canceled community blood drives and decreasing the number of donors. Eligible donors, especially people with the most transfused blood type, O, are encouraged to make an appointment to donate “to ensure patient care isn’t jeopardized,” Vitalant said.

“It’s important for people to remember that they can give blood immediately after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine if you’re healthy and well,” Vitalant’s chief medical officer, Dr. Ralph Vassallo, said in the news release. “Even if the appointment is several weeks from now, setting and keeping it will help replenish what’s needed for both routine treatments and emergencies.”

Vitalant’s blood donations fell short of the need by more than 4,500 donations in December, a trend that has continued into January. In addition to the effects of omicron, severe winter weather in parts of the U.S. has further hampered blood donation events.

The shortage is “not unique” to Vitalant, according to the nonprofit. Associations representing blood services organizations in the U.S. “warned the nation’s blood supply is at a dangerously low level,” Vitalant’s news release said, adding “this trend must reverse to prevent hospitals from having to postpone potential lifesaving treatments.”

Similarly, the American Red Cross has brought the national blood crisis into the limelight and reported its “worst” blood shortage in over a decade. According to a Jan. 11 American Red Cross news release, doctors have been forced to make difficult decisions about who receives blood transfusions and who will “need to wait until more products become available.”

Platelet and blood donations are “critically needed” to help prevent further delays in medical treatments, the American Red Cross said.