The American Red Cross says the nation is facing the worst blood shortage in over a decade.
The organization said in early January that the “national blood crisis” is threatening patient care and putting doctors in positions to choose which patients get blood transfusions.
What’s Causing the Shortage
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Red Cross has seen a significant drop in donors.
There have been ongoing blood drive cancellations, staffing limitations, and lower donor turnout ever since the Delta variant began spreading in August of 2021.
Since March of 2020, there has been a 10% overall blood donation decline and a 62% drop in college and high school blood drives.
“At a time when many businesses and organizations across the country are experiencing pandemic challenges, the Red Cross is no different. And while we are all learning how to live in this new environment… donating blood must continue to be part of it,” Dr. Pampee Young, the chief medical officer of the Red Cross, said.
This, however, is not the first shortage since the onset of the pandemic.
Due to a blood shortage in April 2020, the federal government loosened restrictions on blood donations from gay men. (Critics argue that this ban is based on stigma rather than science, though.)
The increasingly tough winter weather is also lowering blood donor turnouts, as well.
“Winter weather across the country and the recent surge of COVID-19 cases are compounding the already-dire situation facing the blood supply,” Dr. Baia Lasky, the medical director for the Red Cross, said in a statement on the Red Cross’s behalf.
Kristen Mill of Spring Grove, Illinois, has been suffering from ongoing health problems caused by a tick bite in 2009.
Her body doesn’t produce enough hemoglobin to carry oxygen through her blood. When her hemoglobin levels drop, these blood transfusions are needed for her to survive. She has needed weekly transfusions to help her condition for most of the summer and fall of 2021.
On a recent visit to the hospital, she was told there was no blood that matched her blood type and that she would have to wait until some were made available.
“The hospital came to me and they apologized, and they said, ‘We’re so sorry. Our blood bank is depleted to the point where we don’t have anyone that matches with you,’” Mill explained. “It’s very scary, especially if you don’t know if the blood is coming because this is something that you need to live.”
She has had to wait for blood on multiple different occasions in the past few weeks.
“It has become quite common that I would have to wait two or three days for blood. Then my condition would get worse, and I’d need to be hospitalized while waiting for blood. It usually took two days, sometimes three days, which is a long time when you are waiting for something that could save your life.”
She explained that she worries that she might go in for a transfusion one day and the blood won’t make it to the hospital in time.
Because of her personal experience with the blood shortage, she has become an advocate for blood donation.
“There is nothing greater you can give someone than the gift of life. To have people donating lifesaving blood is just incredible and essential.”
Incentives for Donation
The Red Cross is asking everyone to donate blood, especially those with Type O blood.
During the month of January—which was National Blood Donor Month—, they partnered with the NFL. During that time, anyone who donated blood, platelets, or plasma would have been automatically entered for a chance to win two tickets to the Super Bowl LVI, as well as a home theater package and a $500 electronic gift card to watch the game from home.
Outside of the Red Cross’s partnership with the NFL, businesses nationwide are joining in efforts to end the blood shortage. Dunkin Donuts and Krispy Kreme both offered free donuts to anyone who donated blood.
“Please, if you are eligible, make an appointment to give blood or platelets in the days and weeks ahead to ensure no patient is forced to wait for critical care,” Dr. Lasky asked of the American population.
You can make an appointment to give blood, platelets, or plasma through the Red Cross Blood Donor app, on the organization’s website, or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS.
Visit here to learn more about what to do before, during, and after your appointment.