116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the nation’s blood supply to critically low levels, and with summer’s typically low donation rates around the corner, blood centers and health care organizations are urging residents to give blood soon.
Canceled blood drives and fewer donors at local blood centers in the pandemic over the past year has left the nation with a severely depleted blood supply.
The blood center that supplies many Eastern Iowa hospitals said it’s facing critical strains this week on certain blood types, reporting only a one-day supply of O-negative red cells — the first blood type used by hospitals for traumas and other emergency medical care.
It also reported its lowest supply of other blood types since the pandemic began, including two- to three-day supplies on B-negative and O-positive respectively.
And because blood centers across the country are experiencing the same critical levels, they are unable to share with other centers to help alleviate the strain.
“It’s a concerning situation to be in,” said Amanda Hess, director of donor relations at the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center. “We don’t have surge capacity. We’re there before a disaster happens, but it’s important that blood is on the shelf first.”
Blood transfusions are common for patients who need emergency care or who have a major surgical procedure. Patients with illnesses that cause anemia also often receive blood transfusions.
There are no substitutes for blood, and because these products have a limited shelf life, the U.S. supply must constantly be replenished by donors.
The Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center supplies donations to 120 hospitals in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin. Those hospitals require about 3,600 red cell donations each week to meet patient needs.
The Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center will announce a name change for its organization on Monday. The organization — which is known under different brands for its locations across Iowa, Illinois, Missouri and Wisconsin — will rebrand under a single identity to unite the entire service region under one brand, officials announced. A news conference will be broadcast live on the blood center’s YouTube channel (MVRBC) at 11 a.m. Monday.
But over the past year, the blood center has collected only between 3,200 and 3,300 donations per week on average. In general, blood collection is operating 10 to 20 percent below pre-pandemic levels, Hess said.
"This overall loss in donations each week means that, instead of maintaining a five- to seven-day shelf life of all blood types, we have regularly experienced a three-day supply or less,“ Hess said.
Of 59 community blood centers in the United States, 19 blood centers had a one-day supply or less as of Thursday, according to data from America’s Blood Centers. An additional 14 centers are operating with a two-day supply.
Canceled blood drives
The Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center has seen a 30 to 40 percent loss of donations from mobile blood drives per week over the past year when compared with a typical pre-pandemic year, officials said.
Mobile blood drives at high schools and colleges are typically the biggest source for collection at the blood center, but many events were canceled in 2020.
“Loss of school-based blood drives is particularly challenging for blood centers as these events tend to attract larger volumes of donors and donations per event,” Hess said.
Between January and June 2019, the blood center hosted 47 school-sponsored blood drives in Cedar Rapids, which amounted to more than 1,300 red cell donations.
There are only 34 school-sponsored blood drives scheduled in Cedar Rapids between January and June 2021, which is anticipated to yield about 844 donations — a 38 percent decline locally, Hess said.
Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center also saw a decline in school-based blood drives across the four-state region in 2021 when compared with a pre-pandemic year, representing a 41 percent loss in donations.
In the first six months of 2019, the blood center held about 480 drives with school-sponsored groups that yielded more than 15,000 red blood cell donations.
During that same period in 2021, the blood center has booked 401 school-based mobile blood drives, which is expected to collect about 9,000 donations.
Businesses, churches and other organizations that would host mobile blood drives on site have also canceled those events over the past year as employees worked from home or organizations closed as a safety precaution.
Summer historically low
In recent weeks, America’s Blood Centers also reported many centers nationwide have seen their lowest donor turnout in more than a year.
The Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center has been able to grow donations at fixed donor center locations by about 15 to 20 percent over previous years, Hess said, but those collections are not making up for mobile drive losses.
Historically, May top July is a challenging time of year for blood centers nationwide.
The Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center typically reports a supply shortage during the summer months, when high schools and colleges are dismissed and no longer hosting mobile blood drives.
But heading into the season while already facing a critical shortage has national officials raising alarms about blood centers’ ability to meet hospital needs. In a joint statement, national blood donation centers urged Americans to sign up to donate soon.
“Doing so is essential to maintaining the availability of the nation’s blood supply and ensuring lifesaving treatments for patients in need,” according to a statement from America’s Blood Centers, the American Red Cross and the American Association of Blood Banks.
No deferral for vaccine
People still are eligible to donate blood if they have received a U.S.-approved COVID-19 vaccine. Vaccinated individuals should bring their vaccine cards to the blood collection site when donating. If individuals don’t know which manufacturer produced the vaccine they received, or received a vaccine outside the country, they should wait two weeks before giving blood, officials with national blood centers recommended.
The Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center is adhering to strict infection control procedures to ensure donors aren’t at risk for COVID-19 exposure, Hess said. That includes mandated masking and social distancing for donors at the collection sites.
Hess said it’s also safe to host mobile blood drives at sites like businesses or churches. Organizations are encouraged to contact the blood center if they are interested.
Individuals interested in donating to the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center should schedule an appointment online at bloodcenter.org or by calling 1-800-747-5401.
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