COVID-19 pandemic raises concerns about potential blood shortage

Photo of blood bag
ICSident/Creative Commons
According to Cynthia De La Torre, American Red Cross spokesperson, blood donation drives hosted at high schools and colleges compose 20-30% of the Red Cross blood donor base. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many blood drives have been canceled. (Photo by ICSident under CC BY-SA 3.0)

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Health officials worry there will be a severe shortage of blood donations this winter due to closures and cancellations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a UC Office of the President, or UCOP, press release.

Vy Pham, blood drive coordinator for American Red Cross at Cal, said the nation already faces a decrease in blood donations during the winter. However, the pandemic has caused many blood donation drives to be canceled, compounding the issue this year, according to Cynthia De La Torre, American Red Cross spokesperson.

“The blood shortage isn’t something that’s necessarily new,” Pham said. “In fact, it’s just been heightened because of the pandemic.”

Pham added that not enough UC students go off campus to donate blood during a typical year, and volunteer groups such as American Red Cross at Cal do not usually host blood drives in the winter and summer because volunteers are on break.

Blood drives hosted at high schools and colleges make up about 20% to 30% of Red Cross’ donor base, according to De La Torre. Under current circumstances, this presents a challenge, as many schools have transitioned to remote learning.

De La Torre said a blood shortage could affect a variety of patients in need of blood, including those undergoing cancer treatment, premature babies and emergency room patients. 

“It’s a really big problem, because in the case that someone is in a really life-threatening situation, you would never want your loved one to not get the proper care and treatment because there is a shortage,” Pham said.

The Red Cross needs about 13,000 total blood donations per day for the 2,500 hospitals and blood transfusion centers across the nation to have enough blood every year, according to De La Torre.

Pham said students can help by donating blood and plasma, and those who have recovered from COVID-19 can donate antibodies to help others who have contracted the disease. Pham added that American Red Cross at Cal has been discussing possible off-campus locations for blood drives.

People can make appointments to donate blood through redcrossblood.org or by contacting a UC Health hospital, according to UCOP.

De La Torre added that people should get vaccinated against the flu and quarantine if they experience symptoms of COVID-19 so communities can maintain a population of healthy blood donors.

“We definitely need healthy blood donors to step up even more right now to ensure that products are available for patients when they need them,” De La Torre said. “Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.”

Contact Natalie Lu at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @natalie_c_lu.