By Sue Smith
Q. I recently heard there is a nationwide shortage of blood due to the coronavirus pandemic. How do I go about donating blood, and are there any restrictions?
A. There is indeed a national shortage of blood, and currently all blood types are urgently needed. According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds in this country someone needs a blood transfusion.
The national blood supply relies exclusively on voluntary donations. Each blood donation can potentially save up to three lives.
There are only a few requirements for those who wish to donate blood. You must be generally healthy, be at least 16 or 17 years old (depending on the state) and weigh at least 110 pounds. You must also have a valid photo ID.
Donating blood is safe, and the entire process takes less than an hour. You will first be asked in private about your health history to determine if anything in your background would prevent your blood from being used.
Your pulse, temperature, and blood pressure will be taken, and your blood iron levels will be checked by a quick finger prick. You will then be taken to a comfortable recliner for the blood draw. Approximately one pint of blood is extracted over the course of about 10 minutes.
You will rest for a few minutes after the procedure and will be given a snack. Some donors may experience minor side effects such as lightheadedness or arm bruising.
Within a few days of donating, your blood volume will return to baseline and after two weeks, your red blood cells will be back to normal. After eight weeks, your iron stores will have recovered, and you will be eligible to donate blood again.
You can donate up to six times per year. All donated blood is checked for blood type and screened for a variety of infectious diseases. If any diseases are detected, the blood is discarded, and the donor is notified.
COVID-19 vaccination status does not affect your ability to give blood. If you had COVID-19, you must be symptom-free for 14 days before donating.
Many blood donation centers are currently testing donations for COVID-19 antibodies. Blood that is very high in antibodies against COVID-19 can be processed and used to treat hospitalized patients with COVID-19 who have weakened immune systems and are not making enough antibodies themselves.
There are several ways to donate blood. Blood drives are held at hospitals, clinics, schools and companies — places with a high number of potential donors. American Red Cross, Vitalant and many community-based and independent blood centers collect blood, which is then distributed to hospitals.
You can contact such organizations directly to make an appointment to donate. The Association for the Advancement of Blood and Biotherapies provides a blood donation site locator for the location nearest you: aabb.org/for-donors-patients/give-blood.
Sue Smith volunteers with the Grillo Center, which offers free, confidential research to assist in health understanding and decisions. To use this service, contact grillocenter.org or 303-415-7293. No research or assistance should be interpreted as medical advice. We encourage informed consultation with a health practitioner.
Where to find it
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
Google: hhs donate blood
American Red Cross
Google: red cross blood donation process
Google: uptodate blood donation