You Can’t Get Blood From A Stone


Alison Pike

In 2020, Loudoun Valley’s Chapter of NHS held an annual blood drive for students to participate in.

James Thomas, Staff Reporter

As of the 11th of January, the Red Cross declared the first domestic “blood crisis” in a decade. This issue has seen escalation in various states, effectively in tandem with the Omicron variant outbreak. Two years into the COVID outbreak, the national war of attrition against the virus has seen an exponentially dwindling blood supply. 

Some backtracking into 2021 shows that blood shortages were already occurring nationwide. Various organizations warned that hospitals were reaching critical points last summer, with Mississippi and Texas hospitals at critically low supplies. In February, many states such as Kansas, Alabama, Illinois, Ohio, and Connecticut are among a few who are experiencing blood shortages that are only escalating. But why does this issue seem to only be getting worse? 

Blood supplies have always been a finite, voluntary source. It can only  be stored for up to 42 days, which means it isn’t something that can necessarily be stockpiled. Not to imply there would be a chance to stock up, when the need for blood is an ever-looming threat. Chronic conditions such sickle cell anemia, liver disease, kidney disease, hemophilia and thalassemia require annual blood transfusions to remain alive. That alone already covers a few million people, not to mention other medical problems that require  blood transfusions.

When it comes to blood, there are eight main groups, and not all are compatible with each other. Many situations involving the need for blood transfusions are usually immediate ones, with individuals unresponsive due to injury. So medical professionals can’t risk using random types of blood. They can only use the universal donor O-, which is only present in seven percent of individuals. 

To put the necessity of blood transfusions into perspective, 1,916,000 car accidents from 2019 were reported as involving injury. Many of these accidents can require over a hundred units of blood. 

National Crime Statistics from the CDC estimated  the number of emergency visits made in 2018 due to assault at around 1.2 million. Countless events are constantly occurring where people are in need of blood, with many in immediate need. In fact, someone in the US needs blood every two seconds

Some have used this sudden crisis to bring attention to what they call a homophobic and outdated guideline. For instance, men who’ve had intercourse with other men are barred from donating blood for three months. This guideline doesn’t apply to any other sexual pairings. Which has been noted as odd, as sexual acts involving the exchange of bodily fluids between any race, or gender of people can spread sexually transmitted diseases and or infections. This came in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s during the HIV/AIDs epidemic, when the FDA and many blood organizations debarred males who’ve had sex with a male (even if only once) from donating blood indefinitely. 

This came from a time when neither disease was very well understood and there was a lack of a reliable HIV or AIDs test for blood. While this ban was later reduced to three months, many have still found issues within the FDA. In an era where there are far more reliable tests for many of the known STIs and or STDS, the potential elimination  of this ban would come  at a time of great need for hospitals. The initial COVID-19 outbreak has been cited as one not born out of a desire to appropriate to the times, but because the situation has called for it.

Many organizations and volunteers have set up blood drives in the wake of the announcement of the blood crisis. With the Omicron variant reported to have a higher infection rate, the CDC’s Center of Forecast and outbreak analytics has predicted nearly a million deaths will be reported by March 5 of this year. The future of those requiring blood transfusions remains uncertain, as does the ability to combat COVID-19.