January is National Blood Donor Month and this year it is more important than ever to donate blood if you can to help address the massive blood shortage. Though 37% of the nation’s population is eligible to donate blood, less than 10% of the population gives blood annually. The best way to restart all the procedures that have been paused during the blood shortage is to make up this difference in blood donation potential – more people should go out and try to donate blood.

The Holiday Season Means Less Donations and More Need for Blood
Currently, the country is facing the worst blood shortage in over a century. Starting in August, there has been a deficit of 10,000 blood products needed to meet demand weekly. Though many of us don’t see the consequences of this short blood supply in our day-to-day lives, the second one ends up in the emergency room or attempts to get a chronic illness treated it will become quite relevant. This has led to postponed procedures such as surgeries and a limited ability for hospitals to respond to emergency needs for blood in trauma accidents.

This situation has been aggravated by an inverse increase in the need for blood as blood supply decreases. While there has been a 10% decrease in blood donations over the past few months, there has been an increase in the need for blood to address trauma, accidents, wounds, cancer treatments, COVID-19 treatment, and for use in procedures postponed earlier in the pandemic such as surgeries.

This has especially been true during the holiday season when the need for blood is aggravated by riskier behaviors (such as large gatherings and drunk driving), but blood donations drop as people go on vacations and pause their regular routines. Sue Thesenga, the Regional Communications Manager of the Red Cross of Minnesota and the Dakotas, explains the low blood turnout as specific to the winter months, “Holiday gatherings, school being out, severe winter weather, cold and flu season; all of those impact donor turnout at blood drives”.

As a result, organizations like the Red Cross have been seeing a steep decline in blood donations on hand for use. Though they used to have at least a 5 day supply of blood always in stock, now some blood types have as little as a half-day stock on the shelves. This is especially true for Type O blood, which is currently in the highest demand and facing the most severe shortage. Type O blood is the universal blood type, so it is the most important blood type to have in stock, and the fact that type O blood is currently being rationed the most comes with serious consequences.

Rationing of Blood Donations for Transfusion
Some hospitals have even implemented new procedures on how doctors can decide to administer blood transfusions to patients. Typically, doctors can immediately access blood to address patient emergencies. However, as the current situation progresses, some hospitals are requiring physicians to justify if more blood than that which has been allocated for the treatment is needed. Physicians will then have to make a phone call to a hospital blood bank for approval to acquire more blood for the treatment.

Rationing has not only been limited to whole blood and red blood cells but also platelets. Platelets are small, colorless fragments of blood that help blood clot and stop bleeding. When cancer treatments lower platelet counts, platelet donations are then administered to patients, Cancer patients typically receive 2 units of platelets per treatment, but some hospitals have been forced to cut this amount to 0.5 units of platelets per patient to ensure that each patient at least gets some quantity.

The need for plasma, another component of blood, is also dire. Plasma is the liquid component of blood and is the fluid in which all blood cells are suspended in. For plasma, AB blood serves as the universal donor instead of Type O and is in the highest demand. Plasma is used to treat liver failures, infections, and burns, but more recently also COVID-19. In plasma therapy, individuals who have had COVID-19 in the past donate plasma with antibodies to COVID-19 to those currently ill. As COVID-19 rates continue to soar, the need for plasma donations and blood is also rising, with around 13% of patients admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 requiring some sort of blood transfusion – red blood cells, plasma, or platelets.

Donate Blood Now – It’s Easy
Numerous blood vendors have joined together to encourage donations, three of the most notable being the Association for the Advancement of Blood and Biotherapies, the American Red Cross, and America’s Blood Centers. They have been advertising this need extensively on the news and through social media. The American Red Cross, which needs over 12,500 liters of blood a day to meet consumer demand, has even gone as far as to raffle off Super Bowl tickets to donors to encourage blood donations during this shortage.

So why don’t people just start donating blood and fix this problem? The biggest reason is that most people just don’t know about the need for blood and how simple the donation process can truly be. Other reasons, of course, include the fear of needles and the eligibility requirements for donating blood that limits people with certain medical conditions and of certain sizes.

Donating blood is not too long of a process once you get a hang of it. To start, call your nearest blood donation center or sign up for a donation at redcrossblood.org, aabb.org, or americasblood.org. Make sure to review restrictions on weight, height, medications, and travel behaviors before booking an appointment. When you arrive, there will be a brief screening process, blood testing, and then your donation followed by a brief observation period and the provision of snacks.

Making a habit out of donating blood can contribute significantly to preventing blood shortages like these in the future. Additionally, encourage your friends and family to donate blood if they can, especially during this shortage. COVID-19 Vaccination status does not matter (just don’t test positive) and most blood donation centers have strict sanitation procedures and mask mandates implemented inside to protect against COVID-19 right now. It is not only easy to donate, but also safe.