WASHINGTON — The American Red Cross recently declared its first national blood crisis and said it's the first blood shortage in over a decade.
The humanitarian nonprofit says they’ve seen a 62% drop in blood drives because of the pandemic and a 10% decline overall in donors.
So, when it comes to donating blood during the pandemic, who is and isn't eligible?
Dr. Grace Sese, medical director at Inova Blood Donor Services
American Red Cross
Blood donated at Inova is used at Inova's five area hospitals as well as Virginia Hospital Center and the Adventist Health System in Maryland, according to Dr. Sese. The Red Cross says they provide about 40% of the country's blood and blood components.
Can you donate blood, plasma and platelets after getting the COVID-19 vaccine or booster?
Yes, that’s true, for all the vaccines and boosters currently approved in the U.S.
Inova also accepts blood from AstraZeneca recipients, Dr. Sese said, and the Red Cross, from Novavax and AstraZeneca.
In most cases, there's no deferral period.
The Red Cross says those who received a live attenuated vaccine or don’t know which one they got, must wait two weeks before giving blood.
Can you donate blood, plasma and platelets after testing positive for COVID-19?
Yes, following the end of isolation.
For Inova, if you tested positive and you’re symptomatic, or are suspected of having COVID and are symptomatic, you can donate 10 days after the resolution of symptoms.
If you’re an asymptomatic case, you can donate 10 days after your positive COVID test. Dr. Sese says you don’t have to have a test show that you’re negative prior to donation.
For the Red Cross, you have to wait 14 days after your symptoms resolve if you’re a known or suspected case. Asymptomatic cases must wait 14 days after testing positive.
For those who had COVID and were treated with monoclonal antibodies, do they need to wait before donating blood?
Dr. Sese says yes, but they have to be otherwise eligible.
She says that the people who receive monoclonal antibodies might have weakened immune systems that could disqualify them from donating in the first place.
“So if I were to accept a donor to donate after monoclonal antibody infusion, I'd say 90 days, as long as they're cleared by their doctor, and they're feeling well and healthy and...they're eligible to donate blood—like they don't have any underlying autoimmune diseases," Dr. Sese said.
For the American Red Cross, there's a deferral period of three months, a spokesperson confirmed.
What is known right now about COVID-19 patients receiving convalescent plasma?
At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a mad rush to get those who had recovered from COVID-19 to donate plasma for use in hospitals. The idea was that the antibody-rich plasma could be used as a treatment, during a time when there were no treatments available.
The FDA issued an EUA for "investigational convalescent plasma" as a COVID treatment on August 23, 2020.
"We determined that it is reasonable to believe that #COVID19 convalescent plasma may be effective in lessening the severity or shortening the length of COVID-19 illness in some patients," the agency tweeted at the time.
In February, the FDA revised the EUA, stating that the plasma had to have high levels of antibodies to be used, and limited those who could receive it.
"Today, the FDA is revising the Letter of Authorization for COVID-19 convalescent plasma to limit the authorization to the use of high titer COVID-19 convalescent plasma only for the treatment of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 early in the disease course and to those hospitalized patients who have impaired humoral immunity and cannot produce an adequate antibody response," the agency said on Feb. 4, 2021. "Plasma with low levels of antibodies has not been shown to be helpful in COVID-19."
The EUA went through further revisions, which restricted convalescent plasma "for the treatment of COVID-19 in patients with immunosuppressive disease or receiving immunosuppressive treatment."
In December 2021, the World Health Organization came out against the use of convalescent plasma, except within clinical trials for severe and critical COVID-19 patients.
Dr. Sese said they stopped collecting convalescent plasma at Inova Blood Services in "early 2021."
"We have not operationalized it yet, because there are other more efficacious drugs out there, such as your monoclonal antibodies," she said. "So of course, we are committed to helping take helping our patients if there is a need for us to to operationalize it."
It's the same situation for the Red Cross.
"Currently, our primary efforts are the prioritized expansion of red blood cell and platelet collections to meet surging hospital demand and have discontinued our convalescent plasma program," an American Red Cross spokesperson said. "We will continue to monitor the situation in the context of emerging information, evolution of the pandemic and hospital demand to determine if we should resume our convalescent plasma program in the future."
Is it safe for blood, platelets or plasma recipients to receive transfusions with COVID antibodies (either from infection or vaccination)?
Yes, both our experts agree.
"So the antibodies are not harmful if it's there, and secondly, they should not be concerned about getting the virus because it's been proven not to be a transfusion-transmitted disease," Dr. Sese said. "There is no evidence that this coronavirus or any other respiratory viruses are transmitted by blood transfusions, and there have been no reported cases of transfusion transmission for any respiratory virus including this coronavirus, worldwide."
The Red Cross also points out, that a donor with COVID antibodies won't reduce their immunity by giving blood.
"Similar to other vaccines such as measles, mumps or influenza, the COVID-19 vaccine is designed to generate an immune response to help protect an individual from illness," a spokesperson said. "A donor’s immune response is not impacted by giving blood."