Emergency Blood Supply Shortage Continues to Impact the US

The Red Cross says the number of people donating blood, plasma, and platelets has fallen by 40% in the last two decades.

On January 7, the American Red Cross issued a press release calling for blood and platelet donations to help alleviate an emergency blood shortage impacting the United States.

The organization previously announced it was experiencing a shortage in September 2023 due to hurricane activity and other factors.

According to the Red Cross, the number of people donating blood products has hit an all-time low, falling by about 40% over the past 20 years. Low donor numbers combined with the nearly 7,000-unit shortfall in blood donations over the holidays and the ongoing challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have all played a role in the shortage.

Pre-pandemic blood donor eligibility changes, including the increase in minimum hemoglobin thresholds and changing hospital blood transfusion protocols, have also contributed to the shortfall.

In an effort to improve the nation's dwindling blood supply, the FDA recently released final guidance on eligibility for gay and bisexual men, removing some barriers caused by an earlier blood donation deferral policy.

In response to the current blood supply crisis, the Red Cross partnered with the National Football League (NFL) in January to honor National Blood Donor Month. The organizations are offering people who give blood, plasma, or platelets a chance to win a trip for two to Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas. People who donate blood products from January 1 through 31 will be automatically entered in the contest.

The winner will receive Super Bowl tickets, access to day-of in-stadium pre-game activities, tickets to the official Super Bowl Experience, round-trip airfare to Las Vegas, three-night hotel accommodations, and a $1,000 gift card for expenses.

The Red Cross, which supplies about 40% of the blood in the U.S., says the current emergency shortage could delay lifesaving medical procedures for many.

In the press release, Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the Red Cross, said, "A person needs lifesaving blood every two seconds in our country — and its availability can be the difference between life and death. However, blood is only available thanks to the generosity of those who roll up a sleeve to donate."

Who is eligible to give blood?

In most states, individuals 17 years or older, in good health, and weighing at least 110 pounds can donate blood. Some states allow 16-year-olds to donate with parental consent. However, donors 18 years and younger may need to meet certain height and weight requirements.

The most common reasons people cannot donate blood products include acute illnesses such as a cold or flu, taking certain medications, recent travel outside the U.S., and low iron levels. However, a person can donate after recovering from an illness, and in most cases, medications will not impact blood donation eligibility.

The Red Cross says eligibility is mainly based on the reason for the medication, not the medication itself.

Still, in some instances, an individual may need to stop taking certain prescription drugs for a specific time frame before giving blood.

People interested in making an appointment to donate blood, plasma, or platelets can contact the Red Cross via RedCrossBlood.org, the Red Cross Blood App, or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767)

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