PENNSYLVANIA (WHTM) — World Blood Donor Day is celebrated on June 14. Blood donations are always needed, but this year, they are especially important as the nation faces a blood shortage related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Basically throughout the whole pandemic we’ve been functioning at lower-than-normal levels,” says Kacy Englebrook, donor resource consultant at the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank. “Right now we’re around 50% of [where] we should be.”
WellSpan Health notes that one out of every 10 people entering a hospital will need blood. “There is no artificial substitute for blood,” says Englebrook. On top of that, blood can not be stored indefinitely. Donors are needed to replenish the supply.
However, during the pandemic, people were hesitant to get out and donate, says Englebrook, and the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank was unable to hold all of the drives it typically would.
Blood drives at high schools and colleges are some of the most successful donation events for the blood bank. Englebrook said, “They are like our bread and butter.” But with limited numbers of students attending class in person and schools restricting outside guests to maintain the health of students and staff, the blood bank did not visit any schools this past year.
The blood bank faced similar challenges with businesses. “We go to a lot of businesses and just do employees only, and those employees — half of them were working from home,” Englebrook said, “and I think some people were initially uncomfortable having people come into the work environment, too, because they were trying to keep things socially distanced.”
Normally, blood banks from different areas can exchange supply if one site experiences a shortage, Englebrook explains, but with shortages currently facing the entire country, that strategy is out the window. “Even though we work together as a collective, we’re all suffering together as a collective,” she said.
On top of pandemic-related challenges, the summer months usually see fewer donations as people relax and vacation. A statement issued in April by the AABB, America’s Blood Centers, and the American Red Cross urges “eligible, healthy individuals to make and keep an appointment to donate blood now and throughout the summer months, a historically challenging time of year for blood collections.”
“Normally the summer is tough, and now it’s even more tough,” Englebrook said.
The need for blood decreased during the thick of the pandemic with people not doing much outside their homes and hospitals putting many elective procedures on hold. Now as the state and country reopen, the need is increasing, and the supply is not keeping up, Englebrook explains.
She hopes the return of school blood drives in the fall will help boost collections, but in the meantime, she invites people to donate at local drives and donation centers, which are listed on the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank website.
According to the blood bank’s website, most healthy people who are at least 16 years old and who weigh at least 120 pounds are eligible to donate, and they can donate once every eight weeks. Englebrook encourages those donating to eat plenty of food and get enough rest before giving blood.
Individuals who have had COVID-19 or who have received a coronavirus vaccine are able to donate as long as they do not exhibit symptoms of the virus or side effects of the shots. In fact, during the pandemic, plasma donated by recovered COVID-19 patients was used to help others fighting the virus.
Those interested in donating can find more information here on the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank’s website or by calling the blood bank at 1-800-771-0059.