San Diego Blood Bank calls for increased donations as shortage looms

Justin Scholey, 34, donates platelet blood and red blood cells at the San Diego Blood Bank in San Diego on Monday.
Justin Scholey, 34, donates platelet blood and red blood cells at the San Diego Blood Bank in San Diego on Monday, Dec. 19,. The San Diego Blood Bank is struggling to keep up with the demand of blood donations due to a shortage of special kits used to collect blood from those who donate “double reds.” (Adriana Heldiz / The San Diego Union-Tribune)
(Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Supply for Type O blood sits at just one or two days, officials say

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A shortage of a key supply in the blood-collection pipeline is creating an urgent request for more blood donors in San Diego and nationwide.

The San Diego Blood Bank is asking the public, especially those with rare blood types such as O negative, to donate in the coming weeks to help take up the slack as they lose the ability to collect double doses of red cells from single donors.

At present, said Doug Morton, the bank’s chief executive officer, the supply for Type O blood sits at just one or two days, a level that is a little thin for comfort.

“That’s not where we’d like to be, particularly going into the holidays when there’s a drop in donations anyway,” Morton said. “Generally, we would prefer to have three to five days for what we kind of call a community safety supply.”

Type O-negative is particularly sought after for its universal compatibility. This can be life saving when a person is severely injured, their type is not known and there is no time to find out.

Thus far, Morton said, the current situation is not as severe as it was in January when local trauma centers said they were extremely concerned about not having enough blood to perform emergency operations and procedures. One year ago, officials said, had more to do with the coronavirus pandemic forcing cancellation of many blood drives that had traditionally played a significant role in keeping supplies adequate.

Hospital Services Representative Damaso Asencio scans bags of donated blood that will be sent to Hoag Newport Beach Hospital
Hospital Services Representative Damaso Asencio scans bags of donated blood that will be sent to Hoag Newport Beach Hospital at the San Diego Blood Bank in San Diego on Monday.
(Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Collection events, Morton said, have picked up in the past year with drives at schools resuming.

This time around the issue is what those in the industry often call “double red” or “power red” donations.

A process called “apheresis” allows a single donor to contribute two units of red blood cells during a single visit after being hooked up to a special machine that allows real-time separation of blood cells from white cells, plasma and platelets.

The machine can save the red cells while returning the other items to the body, allowing oxygen-transporting red cells to be collected without dangerously reducing the body’s overall blood supply volume.

Four types in particular — O positive, O negative, A negative and B negative — tend to be double collected in this manner due to their relative rarity.

San Diego Blood Bank and many others use apheresis equipment made by Terumo Global Blood Solutions and that equipment, Morton said, requires a proprietary single-use double red cell kit which have been in limited supply all year. Recently, he said, the bank received word that supply will stop entirely for two to three weeks.

Given that about 15 percent of the bank’s 2,000 to 3,000 collections per week are doubles, it will be necessary to collect about 300 more whole blood units to keep up supply of the rarest types.

Red Cross of San Diego and Imperial Counties also banks blood in the San Diego region. It was not clear whether the organization faces a similar apheresis issue. The organization did not respond to queries Monday, Dec. 19.

In an email sent Monday afternoon, Dec. 19, Chetan Makam, Terumo’s general manager of blood and cell technologies, said that “global challenges with supply and demand of raw materials have impacted inventory levels.”

“We have made progress in our production by adding and qualifying new suppliers and increasing production capacity to reduce the inventory impact,” Makam said. “We continue to be committed to our customers and working closely with them to address their needs and help fulfill their mission to patients and blood donors.”

Those age 17 or older, and who weigh at least 114 pounds, are eligible to donate blood if they are in general good health.

To schedule an appointment, visit sandiegobloodbank.org or call (619) 400-8251. Red Cross events can be accessed at redcrossblood.org.


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