Maintaining the blood supply doesn’t take a break around the Labor Day holiday, and COVID-19 has compounded the challenge.
According to the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center (MVRBC) that serves central Illinois, the pandemic has led to many planned blood drives at schools, businesses and churches getting canceled. The MVRBC anticipated a 25% reduction in donors in the weeks around Labor Day.
“We have to look at some different strategies in reaching those donors, and then replacing those donations as needed according to the numbers, with blood drives in different venues and making the rest of our blood drive schedule stronger,” said Kirby Winn, MVRBC public relations manager.
Normally, the MVRBC would collect 3,500 units of whole blood each week to supply the region. But the recent cancellations have the number of collections projected at less than 3,000 per week through September.
Winn noted the need for blood remains constant even as normal routines have changed.
“Certainly, patient care at hospitals doesn’t ever stop; hospitals never close,” said Winn. “The use of blood and donated blood continues whether there’s a pandemic or no pandemic; continues on holiday weekend or a three-day weekend.
“In spite of that day off when we don’t collect as much, we’ve got to have strong collections before and after the holiday to make up to that shortfall," he said.
Blood collection is considered an essential service and has continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Winn said the blood center has implemented procedures to ensure health and safety guidelines are followed--particularly, requiring appointments for all donations.
“We’re asking that we don’t have any walk in donors – somebody who thinks, ‘well, I’ll drop in today and see if they can maybe squeeze me in,’” said Winn. “Instead, appointment schedules are the norm, and that’s been true since last March. The point there is to control the number of people coming through the facility or the blood drive at any given time.”
Other precautions being taken include requiring face masks, practicing social distancing as much as possible, adding space between chairs in the screening and post-donation areas, and having staff wipe down chairs between donations.
Winn said no single blood type is in particularly greater demand currently.
“There’s no aspect of the blood supply where we have too much; that just isn’t a problem we’re having right now,” he said. “So certainly, everyone who is eligible to donate or could give regardless of blood type would be welcome and appreciated right now.”
To encourage donations, the MVRBC is offering donors a voucher for a $10 gift card through Sunday.
“We know that people don’t give blood in order to put money in their pockets or a gift card in their hand,” said Winn. “But it’s a way to express that appreciation because, you know, it’s such a different time right now.”
People wishing to schedule a donation appointment can visit www.bloodcenter.org or call. 1-800-747-5401.
COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma
The MVRBC marked five months of collecting COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma donations, surpassing the 1,000-unit milestone. Antibodies in plasma collected from donors who have recovered from COVID-19 are being used to treat patients currently hospitalized with the disease.
“Many of these folks are donating on multiple different days, and each donation can provide three or sometimes even four different doses or units,” said Winn. “So, people are making a big difference after having gone through a COVID-19 infection.”
Winn said the effectiveness of CCP treatment is still being researched and reviewed by the Federal Drug Administration.
“The thinking is this has worked in the sense that similar viruses have been treated in this fashion,” Winn said, mentioning SARS, H1N1, influenza and MERS. “So, to talk about the effectiveness of the treatment, it’s really about understanding if this is effective or not within the context of COVID-19.
“The body, while fighting infection, will produce antibodies to the infection that will help to control its spread in the body," Winn said. "So, the thinking is that by delivering antibodies from someone who has recovered, that that’s going to support the immune system of a patient is currently fighting the infection.”
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