Red cross says it’s facing a ‘life and death’ blood shortage emergency as the number of donors plummets to 20-year low

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • Donors through the organization have dropped 40 percent over last 20 years
  • Red Cross said Covid-19 pandemic made it more difficult to host blood drives
  • READ MORE:  Gay Biden doctor donates blood to mark new FDA rule

America’s supply of emergency blood has reached a critically low level as the nation faces its lowest number of donors in two decades. 

The American Red Cross declared a nationwide blood shortage Sunday, stating the number of people donating through the organization has dropped by 40 percent over the last 20 years. 

The nonprofit humanitarian organization, which is the country’s largest blood supplier, stressed donations were urgently needed in ensure lifesaving medical treatments and procedures could proceed without delay. 

Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the Red Cross, said: ‘One of the most distressing situations for a doctor is to have a hospital full of patients and an empty refrigerator without any blood products.

‘A person needs lifesaving blood every two seconds in our country — and its availability can be the difference between life and death, however, blood is only available thanks to the generosity of those who roll up a sleeve to donate.’

The Red Cross is the country’s largest blood supplier, stressing that donations were urgently needed in ensure lifesaving medical treatments and procedures could proceed without delay

In an effort to entice people to donate, the Red Cross is teaming up with the National Football League to offer people who donate blood products a chance of winning a trip to the Super Bowl in Law Vegas next month. 

The organization said it faced a shortfall of 7,000 units of blood donations between Christmas and New Year’s Day, which could have a huge impact on the availability of blood products, as well as result in dramatic consequences for people in need of a life-saving blood transfusion. 

The Red Cross is also concerned that the increasingly more severe winter cold season will prevent people from donating and ‘affect future donor turnout compounding the dire blood supply situation that the nation currently faces.’

The organization attributes the decline in donations to several factors, including the Covid-19 pandemic, which accelerated the decline in donors. 

Medical director Dr Eric Gehri said the Red Cross has lost 300,000 donors since the pandemic. 

Additionally, eligibility to donate blood was updated prior to the pandemic that raised some of the minimum thresholds of donor requirements, which resulted in fewer people being able to donate blood. 

Ivy ward, the mother of a nine-year-old with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, told the Red cross her son has received more than two dozen blood products since he was diagnosed with the disease in 2021. 

She said: ‘The hospital floors are full of kids that need that blood and would otherwise not to able to survive without it.

‘Without donated blood products [my son] wouldn’t be here today.’

Dr Gehri told CBS News: ‘Doctors have to make choices about which patients can receive a transfusion in a given day. Surgeries like [heart surgery’ can be delayed waiting for the available blood to be collected and sent to the hospital.’ 

The Red Cross first warned of the dire situation in September 2023, declaring a national blood shortage on September 11. It said the nation’s blood supply dropped nearly 25 percent since August. 

While the Red Cross said all types of blood are needed, there is an emergent need for platelet donations for trauma and cancer patients and donations of blood type O, or the ‘universal donor.’ 

Due to the critical shortage, the organization said it has had to limit its distributions of type O blood products. 

January is National Blood Donor Awareness Month, a month-long campaign aiming to increase awareness of and participation in blood donation.  

People can donate either whole blood or components of blood, including red blood  cells, which are typically given to trauma patients or platelets, which help the blood clot and are used for cancer treatments and organ transplants. 

All of these donations take between one to three hours.

To donate blood in most states, you have to be at least 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good general health. 

Certain types of medications, chronic conditions and recent travel can all affect a person’s eligibility to donate.  

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