Canceled blood drives, coronavirus fears severely impact MT supply

Posted at 9:13 PM, Mar 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-18 23:13:51-04

BILLINGS — The fear of coronavirus has impacted the U.S. blood supply as Vitalant and other blood centers across the country are struggling to maintain stable inventories and avoid a critical blood shortage.

With school closures and business shutdowns, 25% of Vitalant’s blood collections anticipated in March have disappeared almost overnight, and that number continues to grow.

“We need people to start turning out in force to give blood,” said Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (the agency that regulates all U.S. blood centers). “We need it not to get to the point that surgeries are having to get canceled.”

Vitalant has nearly 125 donation centers across the country,with 3 in Montana. Vitalant is the sole blood provider to more than 30 hospitals across Montana and northern Wyoming. As the guardian of the blood supply, 150 donors a day are needed to meet patient needs.

New guidance from government entities recommend that people avoid gatherings. However blood drives are not being considered gatherings, but an “essential health care activity.”

To care for patients, people can give blood, keep scheduled blood drives and organize blood drives in the coming weeks.

“It is safe to donate blood,” said the U.S. government’s leader on COVID-19 testing, Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Healthy individuals should schedule an appointment to donate today to ensure that blood is available for those patients who need it.”

“Our blood collection sites are a ‘first response’ action to this outbreak versus a gathering that needs to be avoided,” said Dr. Ralph Vassallo, Vitalant’s chief medical and scientific officer. “If you’re healthy, you’re needed now more than ever. We cannot let it get to the point where there’s no blood available for trauma patients, those undergoing cancer treatment and patients who need regular, ongoing blood transfusions just to survive.”

It is strongly advised that sick people should not donate blood as blood centers do not test for the Coronavirus.

Blood centers requirements to be in good health to donate, and the blood collection process follows policies established by the FDA to ensure the health and safety of donors and patients.

Vitalant staff follow rigorous safety and disinfection protocols at its blood drives and donation centers. Giving blood has no impact on the donor's immune system.

All blood types and components are needed, with a critical need for platelets and type O blood donations. Platelets have a very short shelf life, only five days. Type O-negative blood is the universal blood type: ER doctors reach for it first to help stabilize patients before their blood type is known.

Vitalant said they continue to closely monitor the situation and will quickly implement any necessary changes as new information emerges from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and FDA.