Supply chains around the world have affected the flow of goods around the world. Everything from semiconductor chips needed to dietary staples like french fries, cream cheese, and chicken tenders. But COVID-19 lockdowns have also put a massive strain on an even more important resource: blood.
The American Red Cross announced a first-ever “national blood crisis” this week, amid the nation’s worst shortage of blood in more than decade.
“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,” the organization said in a statement on its website. “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.”
The Red Cross supplies 40% of the nation’s blood donations, but the organization said it has had to limit its distributions to hospitals, adding that most hospitals may only receive 1 out of every 4 blood products they request. The organization added that it has less than a day’s worth of critical blood types, including O-positive and O-negative. Blood can not be stored or manufactured, exacerbating the need for donors.
The Red Cross cited four primary causes for the nationwide shortage:
- An overall decrease in blood donations by 10% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020
- a 62% drop in blood drives at high schools and colleges since the pandemic forced schools to close and shift to remote learning. The Red Cross reported that student donations made up about 25% of donations in 2019, but dropped to just 10% over the course of the pandemic.
- Continuing cancellations because of illnesses during the winter cold and flu season, weather-related closures, and staffing shortages
- Possible future COVID surges complicating blood drives
The Red Cross acknowledged that businesses and other organizations are experiencing difficulties because of COVID, but stressed the need to continue to donate blood, even as they continue to adjust.
The organization encouraged individuals to schedule a blood donation as soon as possible, and to schedule future donations in advance because of an anticipated ongoing need.
The Red Cross reiterated the need for donations in a joint statement with the Association for the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies and America’s Blood Centers. “As the blood community celebrates National Blood Donor Month this January, the nation’s blood supply remains at one of its lowest levels in recent years,” the groups wrote. “In recent weeks, blood centers across the country have reported less than a one-day’s supply of blood of certain critical blood types—a dangerously low level. If the nation’s blood supply does not stabilize soon, life-saving blood may not be available for some patients when it is needed.”
The groups reported that the U.S. use more than 16,000,000 units of blood in the course of a year, with more than 45,000 units used in transfusions every year. The groups also assured that vaccinated individuals are allowed to donate blood as long as they are symptom-free and feeling well. “The blood community appreciates the patience of blood donors and blood drive hosts during this tumultuous time for our nation,” the groups wrote.
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