FDA worried about blood shortage as donation drives are canceled amid coronavirus concerns

(WASHINGTON) — The Food and Drug Administration is urging healthy individuals to donate blood as American Red Cross blood drives are being canceled nationwide, putting the country’s blood supply at a potential risk as concerns over the novel coronavirus pandemic grow.

“We need people to start turning out in force to give blood,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s biologics evaluation and research, said in a statement.

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According to the Red Cross, nearly 600 blood drives have been canceled across the country, leaving approximately 18,000 fewer donations to the blood bank — and the organization expects these statistics to grow. All this, they explain, is a product of coronavirus concerns.

“Increasingly troubling is that we expect this number to continue to grow with the number of COVID-19 cases on the rise, making it difficult to sustain the blood supply for patients in need,” Jodi Sheedy, a Red Cross spokesperson , told ABC News.

Donor dropouts and limits on how many people are allowed to occupy a building or facility amid the crisis are just two of the reasons why blood drive hosts have canceled drives. These factors have all raised concerns among experts regarding the country’s blood supply and future surgeries.

“We need people to prevent the blood supply from getting depleted. We need it not to get to the point that surgeries are having to get cancelled,” Marks said. “That’s something we absolutely do not want to have happen. To ensure an adequate blood supply we need people to come out and donate blood.”

While this decline is stemming from fears over the coronavirus, the FDA is still urging individuals to donate blood. They explained in a statement that while the possibility of contracting the virus through blood transfusions is unknown, there have been no reported transfusion-transmitted cases so far.

“The potential for transmission of [the virus] by blood and blood components is unknown at this time,” the FDA statement said. “However, respiratory viruses, in general, are not known to be transmitted by blood transfusion, and there have been no reported cases of transfusion-transmitted coronavirus.”

They added, “As communities are affected, it is imperative that healthy individuals continue to donate blood.”

Admiral Brett P. Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health, also weighed in, saying “it is safe to donate blood” in a statement.

The Red Cross is, however, implementing several safety measures at blood drives, including: employees wearing gloves, wiping down donor-touched areas, using sterile collection sets for donations and preparing donation arms with aseptic scrub.

“Blood drives across the country are being canceled. This is going to end up in an unprecedented situation if we’re not careful,” Chris Hrouda, president of biomedical services for the Red Cross, said. “We are doing everything in our power to ensure that we don’t get to a critical level of the blood supply.”

He continued, “If we continue to see blood drives cancel, we are going to reach a level of inventory of which we haven’t seen in the past.”

According to Sheedy, the Red Cross is also asking individuals who have recently traveled to China, Iran, Italy and South Korea — or those who have had contact with someone diagnosed with coronavirus — to postpone their donation for 28 days.

In addition, before entering the donation center, donors must receive a temperature check and apply hand sanitizer.

Above all, organizations are stressing the importance of donating blood, especially as the coronavirus continues to spread.

“Blood donors are needed now more than ever,” Kate Fry, CEO of America’s Blood Centers, said in a statement. “We cannot wait for the situation to intensify further before taking action.”

She added, “The blood supply cannot be taken for granted and the coronavirus only heightens the need for a ready blood supply.”

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