By Eliana Spiess
As the holiday season approaches and we all become more willing to remain in our homes, the growing US blood shortage becomes an even greater threat. During a regular holiday season, blood donations decrease significantly due to the lack of blood drives and donors not going to local centers. This year, the shortage will be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic; as a result of the stay-at-home orders across the country, blood donations have reached an all-time low (1). With the holiday season fast approaching, these blood shortages may be more than hospitals can handle.
Prior to the pandemic, less than 10% of eligible donors actually donated (2), and COVID has only worsened these numbers. Mass shutdowns and limits on social gatherings have led to a decrease in the number of drives being held and a reluctance to donate blood for fear of contracting COVID-19 (3). This is especially true for older individuals who are at a higher risk during the pandemic and are therefore less likely to leave their homes to donate. Because the majority (60%) of donations come from individuals over the age of 40 (4), their absence from the donation pool has greatly contributed to the current blood crisis. In order to get through this holiday season, hospitals need more young donors to step up and bridge the gap between the current supply and patients’ needs.
In an interview with me, Nick Canedo, a representative from UBI partner We Are Blood in Austin, Texas, stated that hundreds of their mobile drives were canceled due to COVID-19. Even at drives that weren’t canceled, turnout has been very low due to the anxiety surrounding unnecessary social gatherings. Furthermore, the intensive safety precautions that We Are Blood has taken to prevent crowding and ensure staff and donor safety have reduced the number of donors that can be seen in a day. Canedo went on to explain how difficult a regular holiday season is and the types of shortages they are expecting this year. During a normal holiday season, schools and businesses are closed, which means there is a significant drop in the number of drives being held. Moreover, donors are less likely to go to centers due to family commitments and flu season concerns. All of these factors are heightened during COVID-19. Canedo was adamant that donating blood during the holidays is a life-saving gift to patients and their families, and donating this year is more important than ever.
Boston Children’s Hospital is another UBI partner that struggles to keep up with patient needs during the holiday season, according to Cyndi MacKinlay, their BloodMobile Coordinator. In an interview with UBI staff, she expressed her fears surrounding the expected holiday deficit during an already-difficult year. Due to the pandemic, Boston Children’s Hospital has been unable to hold drives at high schools and businesses, which is where a lot of their donations come from. Their mobile blood drives came to a stop, resulting in a loss of 60% of their regular input from March through June. They avoid ordering blood from outside sources as much as possible due to the high cost, and even when Boston Children’s does use them, these sources are not always able to keep up with demand. When all patient needs cannot be met, caregivers must resort to prioritizing patients.
Donating blood is absolutely necessary during these uncertain times. To ensure that doing so doesn’t put donors or employees at risk, blood centers have gone to great lengths to implement health screenings, mandatory face coverings, regular sanitization of facilities, and social distancing guidelines (3). The need for young donors has never been more crucial, so if you’re eligible to donate and are already leaving the house, head to a local blood center where you can be the difference in whether or not someone gets to go home for the holidays.