The First-ever National Blood Crisis


The First-ever National Blood Crisis

The Red Cross has experienced a 10% decline in the number of people donating blood since the outbreak of COVID-19, and it's having serious implications for our nation's health systems. 

In this article we will cover:

Last month, the American Red Cross announced its first-ever national blood crisis. Posing a concerning risk to patient care, the organization is experiencing its worst blood shortage in over a decade. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and recently acerbated by the Omicron variant, the Red Cross has experienced a 10% decline in the number of people donating, delaying vital medical treatments and care.2

Why is this so important?

With only 3% of age-eligible people donating blood yearly pre-pandemic, the further reduction of donors is leaving health systems in crisis, resorting to transporting blood between hospitals on an emergency basis, often delaying necessary treatment.1

Donated blood is critical to properly caring for patients – including but not limited to accident victims, planned and unplanned surgeries, and ongoing treatment for blood disorders and certain cancers. 

Supplying 40% of the nation's blood, the Red Cross has needed to limit blood distributions to hospitals in recent weeks. In fact, on certain days, some hospitals may only receive one-quarter of requested blood products. 

An ongoing flow of blood donations is required because, unlike many other IV fluids, it cannot be manufactured or stockpiled for long periods, as blood products have a limited shelf life, and the demand is constant. Hospital trauma centers cannot operate without blood, unfortunately leaving many doctors with the difficult decision of who can receive blood transfusions and who will need to wait until more blood is available.

Who can donate blood?

Before donating blood, you'll want to check if you're eligible to give, by reviewing your state's general health requirements of age, weight, and sometimes height and that you feel in good health. Other restrictions include pregnancy, certain health conditions, travel, and medications.

Visit for specific requirements based on your state.

How can you donate blood?

If you are willing and able to donate blood, you have a few options.

  • Whole blood donation
    Donating whole blood (the blood that flows through your veins) is the most versatile option. Patients who need a blood transfusion can receive whole blood in its original form. The blood can also be separated into different components (i.e., red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets), allowing several patients to benefit from a single donation. 

    Individuals can donate whole blood every 56 days up to a maximum of six times per year, as long as they are 17 years (in most states) or older and weigh at least 110 pounds.
  • "Power Red" donation
    A "Power Red" donation allows you to donate two units of red blood cells during one appointment – the most frequently used component of blood required daily by patients awaiting a transfusion.

    Individuals with type O, A negative, and B negative can donate "Power Red" every 112 days, up to a maximum of three times a year, provided they meet their state's age, height, and weight requirements.    
  • Platelet donation

Individuals can donate platelets every seven days, up to a maximum of 24 times a year. Platelets are the tiny cells in your blood that form clots and stop bleeding and can help those diagnosed with cancer, chronic diseases, and following a traumatic injury.

Individuals at least 17 years (in most states) or older and at least 110 pounds can donate platelets up to 24 times a year. 

In addition to making an appointment with the Red Cross, you can attend a Red Cross blood drive, as well as donate through your local clinic, hospital, or independent non-profit community blood center.

Preparing for your blood donation

The night before donating, have a meal with iron-rich foods – red meat, fish, poultry, beans, spinach, iron-fortified cereals, or raisins – and get a good night's sleep. Eat a healthy breakfast and drink at minimum, an additional 16 ounces of water or other non-alcoholic beverage. 

Wear a sleeved shirt you can roll up above your elbow, and remember to bring an acceptable form of ID for check-in. Finally, following your donation, remember to rest and remind yourself your blood might help save a life. 

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1. "Blood Donations: Who Can Do It, How Often You Can GIve and Everything Else You Need to Know," Claire Gillespie, January 19, 2022.
2. "Red Cross Declared First-Ever Blood Crisis Amid Omicron Surge," January 11, 2022.

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