The American Red Cross announcing a shortage of blood supplies is nothing new. The agency regularly cites such shortages, especially in the winter, when people may be less eager to venture out to donate.
It’s possible people might even have become inured to such appeals, as they might to the boy who cried wolf, if he lived in a wolf-infested forest.
The need is constant, but the supply is not. It’s affected by many variables, from the aforementioned weather to demographic trends to regional or national health situations to whether or not school is in session.
Several of those factors have combined to make this a particularly critical shortage. In fact, it’s dire in multiple ways.
To begin with, while we’ve seen shortages in New Hampshire and even New England (as have other areas of the country), this one is national in scope, according to Mary Brant, the regional communications manager for the Red Cross. She said that designation, made in January, was the first such call in the organization’s history.
Brant said it’s the worst blood shortage in more than a decade and told the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript it’s getting worse.
The exacerbating factor, to no one’s surprise, is the COVID pandemic. Brant said the pandemic has changed habits — such as making the idea of exposing yourself to the virus with a needle in your arm in a roomful of strangers is a more frightening thought — and changed physical dynamics as well. She noted, with fewer high school and college students on campuses, donations from Gen Z are down. They typically make up about 25 percent of donations but were only 10 percent in 2021.
Now add the six-week shelf life of donated blood and the recent spike of patients in hospitals across the country and it’s easy to see a critical shortage. And where, Brant says, a Red Cross appeal usually generates a surge in donors, that simply hasn’t happened this time.
The Red Cross supplies about 40 percent of U.S. blood donations.
Typically, hospitals need about a five-day supply on hand. Every day in America, on average, 36,000 units of red blood cells, 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma are needed.
Those are national statistics, but the need for blood donations is felt most acutely in individual cases. Sarah Bay, a Peterborough nurse practitioner and midwife, told the Ledger-Transcript of a January birth in Nashua after which the mother began hemorrhaging. Checking on the availability of blood, Bay was told none would be available unless the mother lost 2,000cc — more than a half-gallon — because the supply was being held for only seriously ill patients.
Though we’re unconvinced the pandemic is a thing of the past, as restrictions ease, those in good health ought to consider donating. There are many generous actions one can take to help others, but it’s hard to think of one that has as direct an effect on saving a life as giving blood. To find an upcoming blood drive: www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive .