U.S. in midst of severe blood shortage

June 29, 2021
a man lying down squeezing his fist as he gives blood
Organizations like the American Red Cross and The Blood Connection make donating easy by simply entering your ZIP code into their websites. Photos by iStock

While most Americans will be focused on fireworks and grilling out this weekend, blood banks across the country will be trying to figure out how to increase supply. 

“The Red Cross is currently experiencing a severe blood shortage,” said Chris Hrouda, president of Red Cross Biomedical Services, in a statement. “Our teams are working around the clock to meet the extraordinary blood needs of hospitals and patients – distributing about 75,000 more blood products than expected over the past three months to meet demand – but we can’t do it without donors. Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.”

Jerry Squires, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of Transfusion Services at MUSC – a man who has over 30 years working in blood banking – said he’s never seen our country in a worse predicament, donation-wise. 

“There are always shortages, but this is different,” he said. He also knows that over holidays, donations tend to go down, and that’s got him a little nervous. 

"This is serious. People need to understand that. There’s no magic here. Simply donating blood is how we’re going to fix this."

 

Jerry Squires, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of Transfusion Services at MUSC

“My worry is that after the Fourth of July, it’s going to be even worse. The only way to fix it is for people get out and donate,” he said. 

Squires explained that MUSC has partnerships with both the American Red Cross and The Blood Connection, and if not for both, the hospital would be in much worse shape. 

“Basically, what we’re seeing is a 5% to 15% increase in blood use across the country,” he said. Because of the pandemic, people who needed less serious or elective procedures put them off. But now that things are calming down from a COVID perspective, those patients are coming back. Couple that with an unprecedented rise in the number of trauma cases and emergency room visits – the American Red Cross said demand for blood is up 10% compared with this same period in 2019 – and you’ve got the perfect storm.

Somewhat surprisingly, one of the biggest donor pools is young people. According to Squires, 20% of our nation’s supply of blood comes from high schools and colleges. “Maybe it’s just because it gets them out of class,” he joked. “But the fact is right now, many of them haven’t been on campus for a long time, so those donors we typically lean on, they just aren’t there.”

a close up of three vials containing blood sitting on top of a chart next to a stethoscope 
Dr. Squires said MUSC's current blood supply is about 5% to 7% lower than usual.

Additionally, businesses – which also are a big percentage of where our nation’s blood comes from – are just now getting back up and running, and naturally, blood drives are lower on the priority list. 

So bottom line: Squires said we just need to find the time to donate.

“We tend to always think somebody else will do it, but we need to be personally responsible and get out and do it ourselves,” he said. “This is serious. People need to understand that. There’s no magic here. Simply donating blood is how we’re going to fix this.”

At this point, MUSC hasn’t had to cancel any surgeries or turn down transplants, Squires said. 

“But, we’re walking that line,” he said. “Think of it this way: What if your wife or kids needed blood, and it wasn’t there? That would be an absolute tragedy. Medical care today is so incredible; so much so, that we often take it for granted. But if we don’t have the blood, everything changes.”

Squires said that the American Red Cross and The Blood Connection both have websites that make it easy to find a location and time that suits you to donate. 

“They make it so simple. And I have faith we’ll fix this, but let’s not wait on someone else to donate, let’s do it ourselves.”

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Bryce Donovan

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