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Red Cross: Blood and Plasma Donations Crucial to COVID-19 Fight

Woman wearing mask and gloves donating blood.

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Key Takeaways

  • The American Red Cross is urgently seeking blood and plasma donors to address critical blood shortages.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand, but donation tends to be lower in the winter months.
  • The Red Cross has joined forces with the National Football League (NFL) to promote blood and plasma donation throughout January.

The American Red Cross is calling for blood and plasma donors to help fill critical blood product needs. While the winter months of the year are typically slower for donation, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for blood products.

January Is National Blood Donor Month

Winter illnesses, holidays, and inclement weather are all factors that lead to low blood donations during the colder months of the year, Baia Lasky, MD, a medical director for the American Red Cross, tells Verywell.

“We’re hoping people understand that blood is an essential part of the healthcare process,” Lasky says. “People undergoing cancer therapies, trauma victims, and babies need blood.”

Blood products are also needed for surgeries, chronic conditions such as sickle cell anemia, and blood loss caused by internal bleeding.

Baia Lasky, MD

We’re hoping people understand that blood is an essential part of the healthcare process.

— Baia Lasky, MD

Lasky says that blood collection rates have been even lower this year because of COVID-19. The pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of tens of thousands of blood drives, and a loss of over a million units of blood nationwide.

Convalescent Plasma for COVID-19 Patients

The COVID-fighting antibodies in the blood plasma of people who have recovered from the virus (known as convalescent plasma) can be given to current COVID-19 patients to help them recover more quickly.

Lasky encourages anyone who has recovered from COVID-19 to contact the Red Cross about convalescent plasma donation.

A single plasma donation can help up to four people who are battling COVID-19.

A donor can give plasma once every seven days for a total of eight times. Individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19 but did not become ill may also be potential convalescent plasma donors.

“We are performing antibody testing on all donations, so if we find that someone has been exposed to COVID-19 and has the antibodies, we can transform their plasma,” Lasky says. “So far, we have had 45,000 sign up to donate convalescent plasma.”

Still, the need for convalescent plasma is urgent—and growing. “The distributions this last month have exceeded any other month of the pandemic, and the demand is outpacing the supply,” Lasky says, noting that the Red Cross has already distributed 125,000 units of convalescent plasma since the pandemic began.

Plasma vs. Blood Donation

Convalescent plasma is retrieved using a process called apheresis, during which blood is removed from the donor and separated into its four main components: red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. Only the plasma is kept for donation. The remaining blood components are returned to the donor.

With whole blood donation, all components of the blood are used, and none are returned to the donor.

Is Blood Donation Safe During COVID-19?

Lasky assures potential blood donors that the American Red Cross follows all safety recommendations to protect donors and staff from COVID-19, including health and temperature screening for staff and donors, social distancing, a mask requirement for all individuals, disinfecting equipment between donors, and frequent cleaning of high-touch areas.

Can I Donate If I Have Received the COVID Vaccine?

For people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine, the Red Cross follows the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) guidelines for blood donation eligibility.

Blood donation deferral times vary depending on the type of vaccine received:

  • There is no deferral time for eligible blood donors who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.
  • Eligible blood donors who received the AstraZeneca or Janssen/J&J via clinical trial must wait two weeks before giving blood.
  • Eligible blood donors who do not know what type of COVID-19 vaccine they received must wait four weeks before giving blood.
  • Individuals who have received a COVID-19 vaccine are not eligible to donate convalescent plasma.

Regardless of the type of vaccine an individual receives, all donors must be symptom-free at the time of donation.

Teaming Up with the NFL

The National Football League (NFL) is sponsoring incentives to raise awareness and encourage people to donate. Any donor who gives blood or plasma at the Red Cross in January will have a chance to win two tickets to Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles, California, on February 6, 2022.

“We are so grateful for all of the donors that have helped support our patients throughout the pandemic,” Lasky says, adding that blood donation is essential all through the year. “The need is always ongoing.”

For more information, including eligibility requirements to donate, donation sites, and registering to donate, visit the Red Cross website. The information is also available in Spanish.

What This Means For You

If you have had COVID-19 or been exposed to someone who was sick, you could help current patients by donating your plasma. And if you donate during the month of January, you might be able to win prizes—including Super Bowl tickets—sponsored by the NFL.

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  1. Yale Medicine. Apheresis. Updated 2021.

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