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The Importance of Donating Blood During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In the United States, someone needs blood every two seconds to address anything from surgeries and severe illnesses to cancer treatments and traumatic injuries, according to the American Red Cross. That’s 30 people every minute, 1,800 people per hour, 43,200 people per day and more than 15 million people per year.

In other words, donating blood is a critical piece of the American health care system. Since January is Blood Donor Month, INTEGRIS Health partnered with Oklahoma Blood Institute and spoke with Chief Medical Officer Tuan Le, M.D., to find out why donating blood and convalescent plasma is so important during the COVID-19 pandemic

 

Why Oklahoma Blood Institute needs your help

Blood donations experience ebbs and flows throughout the year, especially during the holidays and with inclement weather. 

Oklahoma experienced a debilitating ice storm in late 2020 that left hundreds of thousands of people without power. Combine that with the social distancing measures and many people staying home during the pandemic, and OBI experienced a less-than-one-day supply of blood in late October 2020, according to Dr. Le. Typically, OBI keeps a three- to five-day supply on hand to serve area hospitals.

One donation can save up to three lives. On average, OBI receives 1,200 donors a day, although that number has dipped during the pandemic.

“Blood donation is important, now more than ever, during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Le says. “At the beginning of the pandemic last spring, we were challenged by cancellations of blood drives due to the initial business, school and travel restrictions to flatten the infection curve. Although the cancellation of elective surgeries resulted in a decrease in some hospital inventory ordering patterns, the need for blood and platelets remained due to their therapeutic roles in trauma and cancer management.

“With the reopening phase in early summer of 2020, the resumption of elective surgeries and procedures increased demand for blood products. However, at the same time, mitigation measures to prevent or decrease the spread of COVID-19 resulted in the erosion of both large and small blood drives along with continued cancellations of blood drives at businesses and schools due to social distancing protocols.”

Oklahoma Blood Institute, which is the sixth-largest independent blood center in the country, plays a key role in allowing Oklahomans to receive blood transfusions. They provide more than 90 percent of Oklahoma’s blood supply to over 160 hospitals and medical facilities, including all the blood used in Oklahoma City metro hospitals. 

For example, OBI’s OKC Donor Center serves INTEGRIS locations such as INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center, INTEGRIS Health Edmond, INTEGRIS Southwest Medical Center, INTEGRIS Canadian Valley Hospital, INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center Portland Avenue and the INTEGRIS community hospitals at Council Crossing, Del City, Moore and OKC West.

 

Donating convalescent plasma after recovering from COVID-19 

Convalescent plasma isn’t a new therapy. In fact, this form of medicine dates to the late 1800s, long before antibiotics became prominent to treat infections.

With convalescent plasma therapy, doctors take plasma from previously infected patients with COVID-19 antibodies and give them to current COVID-19 patients to attack the virus.

A single person who donates convalescent plasma can help up to four COVID-19 patients. Since July 2020, OBI has kept track of convalescent plasma distributions sent to hospitals each week for patient transfusions. In late July, that number was 407 units. As of the last week of December, that number had steadily climbed to over 1,000 units distributed.

Still, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations grow, COVID-19 survivors should continue to donate convalescent plasma. Unsure if you have antibodies to donate? When you donate blood to OBI, they’ll also test your blood for COVID-19 antibodies. Your results will be available online 48 to 72 hours after your donation. To donate convalescent plasma, you can sign up online or call 888-308-3924. 

“COVID-19 convalescent plasma (CCP) remains a central part of the clinical toolkit for the treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” Dr. Le says. “We currently have sufficient inventory to supply a few select hospital blood banks with their own CCP stock. The demand for CCP remains high and we encourage those donors who are eligible to make an appointment to donate CCP for us.”

There’s also a need for traditional plasma donations, especially from ABO blood types. Dr. Le says there’s a continued demand for cryoprecipitate, a specialized plasma product made from whole blood donations. He says hospitals use cryoprecipitate in massive transfusion situations and in the patient setting in which certain clotting factors, such as fibrinogen, are low.

 

How the pandemic has impacted blood donation

To help combat low supplies, Dr. Le says OBI has been optimizing convenience and access for eligible donors to donate blood during the pandemic. Some of the blood collection enhancement efforts have included:

  • Creation of pop-up blood drives
  • Increased use of mobile blood drives
  • Mobile COVID-19 convalescent plasma blood drives
  • Walk up convalescent plasma donation process

“We have also updated our procedures to reflect industry and federal guidelines on blood donation eligibility criteria,” he says. “For example, military and family members who were previously deferred from blood donation due to their time in Europe are now eligible to donate blood due to current data about variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob (vCJD) risks.”

As for any concerns of contracting COVID-19 from a blood transfusion, there aren’t any known cases of such occurrences. In general, respiratory viruses, such as SARS-CoV2, aren't known to be transmitted by blood. 

“Currently, we’re following the FDA guidelines of discarding blood units from donors who subsequently notify us that they tested positive for COVID-19 or developed symptoms after their blood donation,” Dr. Le says.

 

Blood donation guidelines

In general, most healthy people who are 16 or older (and weigh at least 125 pounds with signed parental permission) are eligible to donate blood. For specific questions or instances, visit OBI’s “Can I Donate” page.

If you’re recovering from COVID-19, Dr. Le says donors must be symptom-free for at least 14 days before being eligible to donate blood. To donate convalescent plasma, you must meet the above requirements and also provide laboratory documentation of a positive COVID-19 test. Additionally, anyone who has received the COVID-19 vaccine is ineligible to donate.

You can donate convalescent plasma every seven days, although your antibody levels will need to be reviewed. The process takes about an hour and a half, which is on par with other types of blood donations.

In fact, donating plasma is one of four types of blood donations you can provide to OBI’s donor bank. You can donate automated red blood cells in a process that takes about an hour and 15 minutes. The red blood cells will help patients suffering blood loss due to trauma, surgery or anemia. You can also schedule a whole blood donation, which takes about an hour. The blood is collected and then separated afterward into red blood cells, platelets and plasma for distribution.

Platelet donation, which takes about two and a half hours, is the most involved and you should avoid taking aspirin 48 hours before or eating fatty or fried foods 24 hours before. Platelets will help people recovering from surgery, organ transplant recipients and cancer patients.

 

Find a blood drive near you

Donating blood is easy regardless of where you live in Oklahoma. There are nine community donor centers, and Oklahoma Blood Institute also has an easy blood drive search tool. Simply enter your zip code and pick a date, and the donor portal will filter mobile drives and donor centers near you. Once you find a location, you can then click on the schedule button, which will prompt you with times on that specific day to choose from.

Oklahoma City metro donor centers

Central OKC, 901 N. Lincoln Blvd.

Edmond, 3409 S. Broadway, Ste 300

Norman, 1004 24th Avenue, N.W.

North OKC, 5105 N. Portland Ave.

Statewide donor centers

Ada,1930 Stonecipher Blvd.

Ardmore, 2235 Merrick Dr.

Enid, 301 E. Cherokee

Lawton, 211 S.W. A Ave.

Tulsa, 4601 E. 81st St.

For more information on Oklahoma Blood Institute, visit obi.org. Talk to your INTEGRIS Health primary care physician if you’re unsure if you or a family member should donate blood.

 

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