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A nationwide blood shortage caused by the pandemic is being felt in the Inland Northwest

UPDATED: Tue., June 15, 2021

A bag of blood plasma from a donor who has recovered from COVID-19 is pictured at the Blood and Tissue Bank Foundation in Palma de Mallorca on Oct. 5 as part of a research project that seeks to prove the effectiveness of plasma from recovered patients for the treatment of COVID-19.  (Jaime Reina/Getty Images)
A bag of blood plasma from a donor who has recovered from COVID-19 is pictured at the Blood and Tissue Bank Foundation in Palma de Mallorca on Oct. 5 as part of a research project that seeks to prove the effectiveness of plasma from recovered patients for the treatment of COVID-19. (Jaime Reina/Getty Images)

The Inland Northwest, along with many parts of the country, is experiencing a critical blood shortage.

The pandemic has made blood drives and normal donation methods more challenging in the past year, and about 30% of the people who are making appointments to donate blood aren’t showing up.

“If everyone made and kept their appointment, we’d be in much better shape than we are currently,” Jennifer Hawkins, regional director of Vitalant in the Inland Northwest, said.

Vitalant, which supplies blood to 35 hospitals throughout the region, usually keeps a four-day supply on hand, but currently Type O blood donations are below a two-day supply.

All types of blood donations are needed.

In past springs, Vitalant would host blood drives at offices or large employers, but this year, blood drives have looked different. While some schools hosted blood drives, Hawkins said those drives couldn’t collect as many units with limits on the number of people due to social-distancing rules.

Vitalant is looking to host blood drives at community organizations or churches instead. Summer is when demand for blood supply increases, in part due to the level of trauma emergency departments see during this time of year from accidents.

Vitalant does not have a large supply stored away from earlier drives, which has made supply tight. Hawkins said demand has already skyrocketed.

“There have been some tragedies out there in the last few weeks,” Hawkins said. “There’s a real uptick in what’s going on, and as a result, usage is up as well.”

The American Red Cross, which collects about 40% of the country’s blood supply, is experiencing a severe shortage as well.

While the pandemic put strain on the medical system to care for COVID-19 patients, many elected surgeries were deferred or delayed last year. Now, as those surgeries are scheduled again, demand for blood has increased.

“Surgeries might require more blood than they would have if they’d taken place a year ago,” said Ryan Rodin, executive director of the Red Cross chapter in the Inland Northwest, noting that some patients’ health might have declined from having to wait so long for surgery.

Healthy people, including those fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or who have fully recovered from it, can donate blood. There are other eligibility requirements pertaining to a person’s age, weight and other medications or health conditions.

Vitalant is taking appointments for donors online.

Additionally, the American Red Cross is hosting a few blood drives in Spokane County later this month and in early July.

Blood donations, especially Type O, are critical for emergency departments on a daily basis.

With donations prioritized to emergent situations, blood shortages could mean that elective procedures are delayed again.

“Obviously, there’s that opportunity or chance that a physician could have to postpone a surgery, which is the worst-case scenario,” Hawkins said.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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