Blood donations often rise and fall, but the shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is so severe that, if it does not decline, it could lead to rationing of blood products, health officials said Monday.
“It is a very real result if the collection cannot take place” said Lisa Landis, spokesperson for the American Red Cross in the Greater Pennsylvania area. “This is the scary precedent.”
Landis added, “That’s the way we’re on right now if we can’t get that good side.”
Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank spokesperson Jay Wimer said on Monday those difficult talks have already taken place.
“The problem today is that the blood will not be there when it needs it” said Wimer.
It is not known whether the shortage has led to real rationing.
The Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank serves 11 counties in the region. Wimer said Lancaster County hospitals, including UPMC Lititz and WellSpan Ephrata Community, are receiving 80% of predetermined inventory levels.
The blood shortage is reaching a critical level.
For example, the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank will typically have around 800 to 900 units of O + blood on hand. Falling below 800 units, Wimer said, raises capacity issues throughout the system.
As of Monday, the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank had 498 units of O + blood.
“We’ve been saying ‘Oh my God’ for 15 months”, said Wimer. “He fell and he never came back.
Type O is considered a universal donor – and the most sought after – because these donors can donate blood groups A, B, AB, and O to recipients.
“Donor participation decreases”
Demand for blood products among hospitals served by the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank is up 5% to 8%, according to Dr. Kip Kuttner, medical director of the blood bank. Nationally, demand is up 5 to 25% depending on the region.
“Not only is demand increasing, but donor participation is disproportionately decreasing”, said Landis.
Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, which operates the Lancaster General Health Blood Donor Center, has felt the impact of the ongoing blood shortage.
“We continue to rely on members of our community to donate for our patients at Lancaster General Health, and must also purchase products from the American Red Cross and other donor centers to help us meet our needs. “ LG Health spokesperson Marcie Brody said in an email. “Due to the impact of the coronavirus, the current needs at the local and national levels are greater than ever. “
The reason for the national blood shortage is manifold.
Treatment with COVID-19 does not require substantial amounts of blood. However, patients who postponed care during the pandemic are now returning to hospital for elective surgeries and routine checkups, often with advanced conditions.
A single patient may require more than 50 units of blood to respond to trauma.
“The standard of care for the treatment of patients who bleed heavily has advanced, dramatically improving survivability following car crashes, gunshot wounds, farm injuries and other conditions involving massive bleeding. “ Kuttner said in an email.
But this advance requires more blood available in trauma centers.
Kuttner added, “Because these patients can use more than 50 units of blood, I have had discussions about rationing blood products for these patients with the attending physicians, in order to expand the current blood supply.”
Before COVID-19, the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank performed 150 blood drives per month, and about 40% came from workplace donations. The organization is doing about half of that now.
A pre-COVID-19 workplace blood drive that had 65 employees may now have only 10 working in person, Wimer said.
In August 2019, 152 blood drives across the region resulted in the collection of 3,099 units. Last month, the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank had 60 disks that captured 2,425 units of blood, a drop of 22%. Each week, the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank needs 200 donations, but receives 130.
To make up for the delay in nationwide blood donations to the American Red Cross, the organization is expected to collect 10,000 additional blood products each week during the following month.
The participation of blood donors fell by about 10% in August, according to the American Red Cross.
“Fall is usually a time when the blood supply bounces back, as donors are more available to donate than during the busy summer months, but this year presented a unique and serious challenge.” Dr Pampee Young, chief medical officer for the Red Cross, said in a press release.
In addition to feeding and sheltering the disaster victims, the American Red Cross also provides about 40% of the country’s blood.
Young added, “While it is clear that the pandemic continues to weigh heavily on our spirits, the Red Cross calls on the public to remember that donating blood and platelets is essential for the many patients who depend on life-saving transfusions every day. “