It is always a good time to donate blood, but as agencies navigate through a national shortage, they have been trying to get this message out more than ever.
Back in January, the American Red Cross announced that it was facing its worst shortage of blood in more than a decade, and it was impacting blood banks throughout the country. Cari Dighton, communications director of the Northern California Coastal region of the Red Cross, said this has been an issue since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Over the past few months, we have experienced lower-than-normal donor turnouts, which has resulted in us facing a national blood crisis — the first time we’ve ever used that specific language,” she said. “We’ve seen a 10% decline in the number of people donating blood since the pandemic began, and we’re continuing to face issues.”
Additionally, she said the Red Cross has seen a 62% drop in blood drives at colleges since the pandemic began, and it has had to limit its product distribution to hospitals, since the agency supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood.
Dighton also emphasized that the winter weather has compounded the blood inventory situation in terms of needing to transport donated blood to areas with extreme climates that have canceled blood drives. This has only been exacerbated by the omicron variant, which has resulted in additional hospitalizations and created a greater need for the Red Cross to supply blood, which has been difficult given its low supply.
“It really has been a product of the pandemic,” she said. “The Red Cross is not immune to the pandemic.”
However, Dighton said the good news is that since the Red Cross announced its shortage, it has seen an uptick in appointments and donations of blood and platelets, which are also in critical need.
“We’re gonna need to continue to see people turn out and roll up their sleeves in the weeks to come and in the months to come,” she said.
The shortage has also impacted blood donor nonprofits such as Vitalant, which has donation centers throughout the United States including one in Fairfield. Kevin Adler, Vitalant’s communications manager, said the agency has had a “historic all-time low” in blood supply levels over the last few years, and currently is at its lowest since the start of the pandemic.
“Because of omicron and the pandemic, we’re seeing more people who are testing positive,” he said. “There’s COVID fatigue going on, so the people are just not donating.”
Adler also reiterated that schools and businesses have not been hosting as many blood drives as they did before the pandemic due to safety concerns.
“A lot of times, businesses just don’t have employees on site to host blood drives,” he said.
All of this, Adler said, has resulted in a 10% drop in Vitalant’s active donor base over the last 12 months.
“Within that, we’re seeing an 8% drop in the number of first-time donors who are coming to give blood,” he said.
Vitalant is still accepting donations at its Fairfield center, located in the Gateway Plaza at 1325 Gateway Blvd. People are encouraged to make appointments in advance at Donors.vitalant.org/dwp/portal/dwa or by calling 877-258-4825, although walk-ins will be accepted as well.
Additionally, Vitalant is also partnering with different agencies to host community blood drives. Among those coming up in Solano County:
- 2-7 p.m. Feb. 24, The Church of Jesus Christ, 311 Alamo Drive, Vacaville.
- 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Feb. 27, 520 Orange Drive, Vacaville. Donors will also receive a free car wash at this event.
- 1-6 p.m. March 8, Veterans Memorial Hall, 1150 First St., Benicia.
The Red Cross only has one blood drive scheduled in Solano County in the near future — Feb. 19 at the First Baptist Church in Vallejo — but its signups are full. Other blood drives are open just outside the county, and Dighton encourages people to enter their ZIP code at Redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive for any opportunities in the future.
As an incentive to donate, the Red Cross has partnered with different agencies for different perks for those who give blood. In January, the Red Cross partnered with the NFL for a promotion in which anyone who donated became eligible to win a trip to the Super Bowl, a home theater package and a $500 e-gift card.
Throughout February, all donors will be emailed a $10 gift card from Amazon, which the Red Cross has also partnered with.
“We have some really incredible partners that help us with this message and helped us ensure we have enough donors to try and boost the blood supply back up to the levels that we need to be,” Dighton said.
Since March is Red Cross Month, Dighton said there will be additional opportunities next month.
Vitalant’s Fairfield center had a steady stream of donors Wednesday evening donating plasma, platelets and even whole blood. It brought out several regular donors, such as Ted Waldvogel of Vacaville, who donates every four to six weeks as a way to give back to the community.
“I know most everybody who works here at this point,” he said. “I’ve been coming here for several years.”
Waldvogel donated platelets and plasma Wednesday. While some might be hesitant to donate, he assured that it was an easy experience.
“They make it as enjoyable as possible,” he said. “I encourage people to come down here. It’s a needed thing, don’t be afraid to get a little needle prick. It’s not a big deal, it’s easy and it serves a good need.”
Nadar Ibrahim of Suisun City, who was in for a whole blood donation, said he has been donating for 24 years.
“I’ve done over 12 gallons probably,” he said.
Ibrahim tries to encourage people to donate by wearing a “Blood Donor” T-shirt. He has accumulated many of them over the years.
“This is probably one of 50 to 60 shirts I’ve gotten from here,” he said. “I also post it on Facebook every time with a picture so people can see it’s encouraging.”
Jenette Hickem of Fairfield said it was an easy way to help the community.
“It’s a necessary thing for our community, to be able to help out,” she said. “It’s easy to do, I can do it on my own schedule.”
Adler said it was a great feeling for donors to know they are making an impact.
“As soon as you give, just a couple of days after it’s tested, after it’s processed and shipped, that blood is going to be used by someone in a hospital who is really relying on it,” he said. “Knowing that great feeling of giving back, knowing that you’re doing something good, that you’re helping others in our community, that is the benefit.”
Dighton estimates that every 2 seconds, someone in the U.S. will need blood, whether they are going through cancer or just experienced a car accident.
“One really never knows when the need for blood might pop up in their own life,” she said. “Blood can only be given through the generosity of donors that roll up their sleeves.”
Dighton said every drive and donation center adheres to safety standards, including COVID protocols. For more information, visit RedCrossBlood.org.