What’s behind the national blood shortage?


What is causing the national blood shortage? Hematologist Raymond Comenzo has answers.

Here, Comenzo, professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine and medical director of the blood bank and transfusion medicine laboratory at Tufts Medical Center, breaks down the shortage:

COVID-19 has made blood collection more difficult. Nurses are retiring, and like many businesses during the pandemic, blood centers have been unable to maintain a full workforce. And there seems to be a reluctance among people to come and donate blood during the pandemic.

But this is not the main reason for the shortage.

The blood donation landscape as a whole has truly changed. The blood supply in the United States has been under pressure for several reasons over the past five or six years.

First, small blood centers have struggled to survive shrinking profit margins as the demand for blood declines due to improved medical practices. The old business model no longer worked for small centers and we went through several years of big blood centers buying out small ones. The Red Cross has come under similar pressure and this has resulted in the reduction of services; in Massachusetts, the Red Cross no longer collects in the western part of the state.

Second, the donor pool is drying up. Older adults, who make up a large percentage of donations, are aging and younger donors are not replacing them quickly enough. With fewer centers and fewer donors, the system is not as responsive as before and it is not always possible to meet unexpected increases in demand.

We try to restrict the use as best we can to ensure that patients who really need blood products get the blood they need. There are drugs, for example, that can stimulate the production of red blood cells; we have recommended their use for people who bleed chronically, reducing their need for transfusions.

The blood supply took a hit about three years ago and we started working with emergency management here at the medical center on plans to deal with it. There are times when our inventory goes very low and we really have to evaluate every request that comes in. Shortages could potentially cause surgeries to be postponed. Employees at Tufts Medical Center asked about donations and we asked them to contact the Red Cross. Their response was quite gratifying; healthcare workers respond to emergency blood shortages.

For anyone who would like to help meet the critical need, please contact the American Red Cross to schedule an appointment to donate blood.

COVID is not a blood-borne disease, so you cannot give it or get it by donating blood, and all blood centers are following COVID protocols, including screening, to minimize risks of airborne transmission during your visit. Giving is safe and simple and it helps us save lives.

Source: Tufts University


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