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WSJ: U.S. Blood Reserves Are Critically Low

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WSJ: U.S. Blood Reserves Are Critically Low.

Majority of nation’s blood banks have one-day supply or less of Type O blood, officials say.

The U.S. blood supply is at critically low levels after Covid-19 shutdowns have emptied community centers, universities, places of worship and other venues where blood drives typically occur.

The American Red Cross, which supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood, said more than 30,000 planned blood drives have been canceled since mid-March.

Even as some businesses, schools and community groups make plans to reopen in coming months, they have told the Red Cross they don’t anticipate sponsoring blood drives in the near future.

...The majority of the nation’s blood banks now have a one-day supply or less of Type O blood, according to blood bank officials. Typically, blood banks try to maintain a three-to-four-day supply. Type O blood is in the most demand because it can be given to people in any blood group.

...Blood banks, hospitals and other collectors are looking for ways to motivate people to come donate. The Red Cross is offering a $5 gift card via email to people who come in to donate through June 30. Last month, the organization offered a Red Cross T-shirt by mail to donors.

...Brian Gannon, chief executive of Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in Houston, which serves around 175 hospitals and health-care institutions, said starting June 14 his center would test blood donations for antibodies to the Covid-19 infection, a motivational offer that other blood centers also have been making.


Give blood if you can. Many people cannot donate because of certain conditions or past infections, so the pool of donors is smaller than one might think.

I am an O+ blood type (widely compatible*) and I am considering giving blood, but doing so seems incompatible with high altitude hikes and thus my work, so I have not yet decided whether to proceed. I need to look at how much blood is taken and the recovery time and how it might impact my ability to work—I am in no position to give up any income whatsoever.

Getting paid for donating blood is not a consideration for me in this matter... but why are people not paid a market price for their blood? Outrageous hospital fees profit the medical industry handsomely—but that you cannot get paid good money for your own blood strikes me as a grotesque inversion of morality.

O-positive vs O-negative blood

The closest blood type to universal donor is O-negative blood, given to high risk patients such as preemies and children in need eg “pedipac”. Blood must test negative for CMV in particular for children, in addition to being free of a variety of other diseases.

For emergency transfusions, blood group type O negative blood is the variety of blood that has the lowest risk of causing serious reactions for most people who receive it. Because of this, it's sometimes called the universal blood donor type.

lood group types are based on proteins called antigens that are present on red blood cells. There are major antigens and minor antigens coating the red blood cells. Based on the major antigens, blood groups may be classified as one of these four types:
- Type A

- Type B
- Type AB
- Type O

Blood is also classified by rhesus (Rh) factor. If your blood has the Rh factor, you're Rh positive. If your blood lacks the Rh factor, you're Rh negative.

Ideally, blood transfusions are done with donated blood that's an exact match for type and Rh factor. Even then, small samples of the recipient's and donor's blood are mixed to check compatibility in a process known as crossmatching.

In an emergency, type O negative red blood cells may be given to anyone — especially if the situation is life-threatening or the matching blood type is in short supply.

Peter O writes:

I've given gallons of blood over the years, starting in high school (I'm now in my 40's). If you give in the traditional fashion (i.e., whole blood), they take 1 pint. I've always enjoyed the process, and personally have experienced a feeling similar to a runner's high for a few days after giving (although not always). Sometimes you get a green phlebotomist who has trouble finding the vein, but that's been rare. Never any major negative effects, but I'm not an endurance athlete, nor do I live at a high altitude. However I do run, bike, & hike, and like to think I'm in tune with my body. It seems to take a week to feel 100% back up to speed. They say you should wait ~56 days between donations, so I can only presume it takes roughly that long on average to fully restore your supply, but my guess is that varies based on health and nutrition.

I always give through the Red Cross. They do offer the alternative of giving platelets or plasma instead of whole blood. In each case, your blood is separated in a machine and red blood cells and plasma (or platelets) returned to you, which speeds up recovery time and limits stress on your body. I've never done this, but many people do. It takes a bit longer (~1.25 hrs) due to the separation process. Might be a better option if you are concerned about recovery time.

The toughest part is finding a place to donate and scheduling. They don't make it easy. I typically give at blood drives hosted by employers, but that is non-existent now with COVID/working from home. I think that's probably the biggest hit to blood supplies -- the lack of easy access to donate. Red Cross should really get the Bloodmobiles out into some of these suburban locations where folks are working from home and have time to give, if it's made more convenient.

WIND: I imagine that ordinary exercise is not much affected, But try working out at up to 95% of max heart rate even at sea level, and a loss of oxygen (blood carrying capacity) is a big deal, not to mention at 11800' where I am now. If it takes a week to feel normal with casual exercise, then serious training surely is much longer.

If you want less of anything, tax it, or charge for it, or add friction.

The blood donation situation hits 2 of those three points: you as a donor not only get no compensation but in effect have to shell out money to donate. The friction of time spent and thus income lost (for me at least) means very high friction. And that’s not even counting the physical impact.

I agree that access is too hard—for me it would scarf up nearly half a day by the time I drive/park/donate/wait/drive home. That’s a HUGE hit to me as a self-employed person. Why the hell should I donate half a day of my time (time = money) which in effect is writing a check for the privilege of donating blood? Why don’t I get a free health care visit with a doctor, as these institutions ream me with a huge bill for a basic 10-minute medical checkup e.g. $400 for a dermatology exam? This is a grossly unethical state of affairs in which the medical establishment profits at the expense of donors. The only thing that makes me consider donating blood is that there is a person out there who well benefit. The in-between stuff is disgusting.

Rainer U writes:

Concerning blood donations: I am a blood donator with the German Red Cross since many years and it never affected my cycling sports. They always take 500ml (= half a litre) and usually urge me not to enter races or embark onto very long tours for the next three days. This is it. Usually they tour the inner cities and market places with specially equipped trucks, which can process five donators simultaneously. So people can donate on-the-fly while they are in the city for shopping.

You are right that one could expect some kind of compensation for a donation. Sometimes they indeed hand out little presents (umbrellas, power banks and the like), but not on a regular basis.

For me it is, among other things, a contribution to the society. What I get in return is a safe life in a society which works quite well and helps me in times of trouble.

WIND: I’ll end up donating at some point, not for “society” but for that face or two I know I’ll have helped. But maybe that is saying the same thing a different way.

I think Europeans don’t quite understand how expensive and f*ed up our health care system is, so compensation for blood donation in the context of financial ruin for some of us takes on a whole new perspective. My financial life was destroyed by ObamaCare so it’s “personal” for me.

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