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‘Beyond scary’: Vitalant pleads for donors as local blood supply plummets

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 11, 2022

Benjamin Chadduck gives blood during a blood drive at Freeman High School in May. Vitalant says there is a critical blood shortage in the Inland Northwest right now.  (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-R)
Benjamin Chadduck gives blood during a blood drive at Freeman High School in May. Vitalant says there is a critical blood shortage in the Inland Northwest right now. (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-R)

The local blood supply has dropped to a two-year low, and Vitalant is asking eligible donors to make and keep appointments.

Typically, winters are a slow time for blood donations, but this year, the shortage is lasting longer and is much worse than in previous years.

“It is beyond scary; it’s just at a level we’ve never seen,” said Jennifer Hawkins, regional director of Vitalant Northwest.

The number of people who schedule appointments then cancel or just don’t show up to donate has increased recently in the Inland Northwest. Additionally, the pandemic continues to make blood drives, typically held in workplaces or schools, challenging if not impossible.

The omicron surge in COVID cases has not helped the strained blood supply either. Hawkins said Vitalant, much like other employers in various sectors, is also struggling to hire enough staff.

Donations are being collected at Vitalant’s brick-and-mortar locations, but these appointments might be limited due to staffing and space. Hawkins asked healthy, symptom-free people who are eligible to make appointments to donate, even if it takes a few weeks to find an open one.

The local future of blood donations, where Vitalant distributes to 35 hospitals in this region, is looking bleak as more regular donors are growing older and younger generations are donating less, Hawkins said.

In 2011, Vitalant had 100,000 regular blood donors in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. In 2021, there were just 23,000 donors in the organization’s Northwest region.

Vitalant is looking for younger people to become regular blood donors throughout the year, donating three times annually.

Hawkins said people with all blood types should donate.

While people with Type O blood are used in mass casualty or emergency surgeries, people with other blood types are valuable donors for cancer patients or other patients who need blood during a medical procedure where their blood type can be matched.

There are eligibility requirements to donate blood, which all donors must meet. If you’ve had COVID-19, you must be symptom-free for at least two weeks before you are eligible to give blood.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is primarily funded by the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, with additional support from Report for America and members of the Spokane community. These stories 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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