Why is there a blood shortage in the US?

The American Red Cross has warned of a national blood shortage due to the pandemic and is urging people to donate blood to ensure that vital procedures can go ahead.

Why is there a blood shortage in the US?
Carl Norman/ US ARmy EL PAÍS

The American Red Cross has issued warning of a “national blood crisis,” blaming the pandemic disruption for the worst blood shortage in over a decade. The Red Cross supplies around 40% of the nation’s blood supply and has had to limit to the use of blood product in hospital procedures in recent weeks due to the shortage.

A joint statement released by the American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers and the Association for the Advancement of Blood and Biotherapies reads:

“In recent weeks, blood centers across the country have reported less than a one-day’s supply of blood of certain critical blood types – a dangerously low level. If the nation’s blood supply does not stabilize soon, life-saving blood may not be available for some patients when it is needed.”

What has caused the blood shortage in the US?

Since the start of the pandemic the ongoing public health crisis has had a monumental impact on many areas of healthcare provision, but the related restrictions have harmed the national blood donation system in particular.

Since March 2020 there has been a 62% decrease in blood drives in schools and colleges as students were encouraged to reduce social contact. In 2019 these groups made up 25% of all blood donors, but have contributed just 10% of the total during the pandemic.

The huge covid-19 workload and illnesses within the healthcare community have led to staff shortages, meaning that organisations have been less able to run blood drives. In addition to that many of the usual venues for blood drives, such as shopping malls and sports events, have seen a big drop in footfall and therefore potential donors.

Since the start of the pandemic the Red Cross reports a 10% fall in overall blood donation; enough to put certain groups at real danger and force hospitals to prioritise only the most severe of cases.

Red Cross urges Americans to donate blood

The Red Cross has called upon individuals for all blood types to donate in the coming weeks to help boost the national supplies. All blood types are in short supply but donations of Type O-positive, Type O-negative and platelets are particularly important, says the organisation.

Jessica Merrill, director of biomedical communications for the American Red Cross, outlined the importance of helping out: "I know of a teenage cancer patient in New York who recently had to go without a scheduled transfusion due to the lack of available blood.”

"Imagine how hard it is for a parent to take their sick child home without the treatment they need to feel better."

For more information on how to donate blood and the closest location to you, head over the the Red Cross’ Nation Blood Crisis help page.