Omicron variant fears heighten blood shortage nationwide

NEW JERSEY — New Jersey Blood Services has announced a blood emergency due in large part to fears of the omicron variant and the holiday season. Currently, the region’s blood supply stands at a one- to two-day level, well below the ideal inventory of five to seven days. Blood centers across the country are and have been suffering from shortages for the 19 months of the pandemic.

Many factors complicate the situation, including donor fatigue from constant urgent and critical messages, as well as a significant decrease in first-time donors stepping up to help. Working from home is the new normal, preventing many organizations from being able to host successful blood drives and thousands of groups that had supported the blood supply pre-pandemic have not resumed blood drives. Most high schools and colleges, which accounted for 25 percent of NJBS’ blood donations, have not returned to hosting blood drives. 

Widespread fear of COVID-19 infection continues and new fears about the omicron variant are also keeping donors away. Additionally, some donors are confused about eligibility to donate when it comes to vaccination status. Donors who have had the vaccine and donors who have not are all still eligible to donate; vaccinated donors are asked to provide the date and brand of their vaccine. 

Currently, there is no national surplus of blood. Prior to the pandemic, a national surplus of blood products would be used to mitigate any regional blood shortages. 

The omicron variant is creating new concerns. Donors with upcoming appointments and organizations with upcoming blood drives are canceling, creating extra volatility to the blood supply. Hospitals and patients must be able to rely upon a steady flow of volunteer donors, but the new variant is causing new uncertainty at the worst time of the year. 

“In a normal year, winter is a difficult time to maintain the blood supply. Unpredictable weather, cold and flu season, school breaks, and family and holiday travel all contribute to making blood donations less of a priority. Normally, October and November are a time where we build our inventory in anticipation of these challenges, but this year is especially dire without a solid inventory pre-holiday and the news of a new variant,” said Andrea Cefarelli, senior executive director at New Jersey Blood Services. “Donating blood is safe, easy and vital to those who need it. This is the season of giving and there is no better gift to your fellow neighbors than lifesaving blood donations.”

Donating blood only takes one hour. NJBS is taking extra precautions to help prevent the person-to-person spread of COVID-19. All NJBS staff members are vaccinated. As always, people are not eligible to donate if they’re experiencing a cold, sore throat, respiratory infection or flu-like symptoms. People can donate blood regardless of vaccination status. Additional information on donor eligibility and COVID-19 precautions is available at https://nybc.org/donate-blood/covid-19-and-blood-donation-copy/

Donors can schedule appointments by calling 1-800-933-2566 or visiting www.nybc.org.

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