Vitalant needs urgent blood donations
Vitalant needs urgent blood donations, as does the American Red Cross, throughout the tricounties. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Blood donations are essential amid the coronavirus response, and it’s important to maintain stable blood supplies to help people who rely on lifesaving donations, local blood bank officials said Tuesday.

“If you are able to donate blood, we are asking you to come,” said Tony Briggs, CEO of the American Red Cross of Central California.

Blood is perishable, and it’s “not something we can keep around forever,” Briggs said. A blood donation has a shelf life of about 56 days, he added.

Blood donations are regularly needed for cancer patients, people with sickle cell anemia, accident victims and other emergencies, Briggs said.

“Although we are in a COVID situation,” he said. “There are people who still need lifesaving blood, and that’s the reason we are constantly asking people to donate.”

More than 19,000 Red Cross blood drives have been canceled nationwide over the past month, leading to a deficit of more than half a million potentially life-saving blood donations, Briggs said.

“That has put a strain on the system,” he added.

Eligible donors have stepped up to help in these uncertain times.

The Red Cross is encouraging healthy donors to schedule an appointment in the weeks ahead to ensure a stable supply. The humanitarian organization is urging people to keep scheduled appointments.

“The great thing is over the past few weeks, we have asked the American public to come out and donate, and they have done just that,” Briggs said. “We are ecstatic on the response we have had, but we are asking people to make an appointment to donate in the next two to three weeks.”

Briggs continued: “We are asking people, since they have time and are at home, get on, and make an appointment — keep that appointment, and they will be able to help save lives in the future.”

The Red Cross, in coordination with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is seeking plasma donations from recovered COVID-19 patients to help others with COVID-19, Briggs said.

Individuals who have fully recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus, Briggs explained.

“We are working with the FDA to develop a therapy that will help those who are suffering through COVID-19,” Briggs said. “It is the trial, and we have had some success. It’s not a cure, but it is something that we are working on.”

Click here for more information about donating plasma to help treat patients seriously ill with COVID-19. 

A large number of blood drives on the Central Coast were canceled in the wake of the onset of the coronavirus, a respiratory-infection outbreak.

Blood supply has taken a hit since shelter-in-place orders were implemented in late March, including temporarily shutting down schools and workplaces to curb the spread of the virus.

Blood drives often occur at college campuses, places of worship and other locations now shuttered.

Vitalant reported about 150 blood drives have been canceled across Ventura and through San Luis Obispo counties between mid-March through May — resulting in approximately 4,000 pints of uncollected blood donations.

“That is about half of our blood drives during that time,” said Sherie DeVillers, donor recruitment supervisor for Vitalant.

Vitalant, formerly United Blood Services, is a nonprofit blood bank serving communities in the region.

DeVillers explained why it’s key to ensure a stable blood supply sxdand why it’s critical to give blood.

“We need to ensure an ongoing safe and ample blood supply,” DeVillers said. “It is important that everyone who can donate does.

“Not all right now; but because blood is perishable, that we have a sufficient amount of blood coming in each day,” she continued. “This will help us for the duration of the crisis, as well as when we enter the summer months, which is typically a hard time for blood collections.” 

U.S. government partners encourage people who are feeling well to continue to donate blood as it is an essential function.

Although state and local governments have barred people from leaving their homes except for essential activities, the Federal Emergency Management Agency identified blood donation as an “essential and integral component of the emergency support function.”

The FDA website said multiple steps are being taken to protect the nation’s blood supply from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We needed to remind the public of the locations we were still able to maintain for blood collections, and donating blood is considered an essential healthcare activity by the surgeon general, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FEMA,” DeVillers said.

Vitalant has stopped using its mobile blood services because of social distancing protocols, and will continue to collect blood at community locations. 

Appointments are strongly encouraged, DeVillers said.

“Through the end of May, we are only holding blood drives in a facility that can provide a large room for us,” DeVillers said.

The organization is working with hospitals to meet demand, and some hospitals are ceasing elective surgeries until transmission of the virus has slowed.

“We have done well with keeping the blood supply where it needs to be, as usage at hospitals is also down due to some elective surgeries being canceled,” she said.

Anyone who is not feeling well or has had symptoms in the past 14 days should not donate blood, DeVillers said. People who have traveled outside of the United States in the past 28 days are not permitted to donate blood. 

All blood types are needed. Type O blood donations are in high demand because O-positive blood is the most common type and can be given to anyone with a positive blood type, while O-negative blood is used when the blood type is unknown, especially in trauma situations. 

The Red Cross and Vitalant both have implemented and ramped-up measures to ensure donation centers and blood drives are safe for donors and staff.

Click here for information about donating blood at the Red Cross.

Click here for information about blood donations at Vitalant.

Click here for the Public Health Department’s coronavirus information.

Click here for Noozhawk’s Coronavirus Crisis section.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.