Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

COVID-19 hinders blood donations during National Blood Donor Month

Navy Capt. R. Wade Blizzard, commanding officer of U.S. Navy Support Facility Diego Garcia, donates blood for the Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Units Diego Garcia walking blood bank on Dec. 17, 2020. The walking blood bank is a list of eligible donors who can provide blood in case of emergency. (U.S. Navy photo by Navy Seaman Apprentice Stevin Atkins) Navy Capt. R. Wade Blizzard, commanding officer of U.S. Navy Support Facility Diego Garcia, donates blood for the Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Units Diego Garcia walking blood bank on Dec. 17, 2020. The walking blood bank is a list of eligible donors who can provide blood in case of emergency. (U.S. Navy photo by Navy Seaman Apprentice Stevin Atkins)

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program | Public Health | Coronavirus | Total Force Fitness Toolkit

ASBP is the military's only blood donor program for service members, their families, retirees, veterans, and local communities worldwide, helping those in critical need. Both whole blood and COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma (CCP) from those who have recovered from COVID-19 remain in high demand. All 21 donor centers adhere to CDC guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Getting people to donate a pint of their potentially life-saving blood has never been easy. And, like almost every aspect of modern life, COVID-19 has made it even harder.

With strong recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control to keep one’s distance from others and always wear a mask in public, volunteering to go to a facility for about 40 minutes to have blood drawn has not been a priority for many. And then there were the blood drive cancellations — too many to count, for months at a time.

“The public health guidelines to reduce interaction with others, social distancing, reducing time outside the home … it translates into a decreased donor turnout,” said Army Col. Jason Corley, director of the Army Blood Program, from the U.S. Army Medical Command at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas. “We’re no different from our civilian blood agency counterparts. They’ve been experiencing the same things since March. Everybody’s trying to do the right thing. Commanders and donors want to be safe and healthy. It makes it difficult to continue and schedule blood drives. It’s just harder to meet our required quota numbers.”

Blood donations followed the wave of the pandemic, he said. Things got better, if not back to normal, during the summer months, only to rapidly drop off again in the fall.

“Now with the resurgence of COVID that really started in November, it’s been going on since,” he said, adding that blood drive cancellations have again increased, and that where some have gone ahead as planned, the number of donors is again down.

So, while January is always a good time for National Blood Donor Month, it is especially true this year.

“In December and January, historically, even without COVID, that’s always a low turnout period due to the holidays, people going on vacation, and due to the weather,” Corley said. “It just is a low time period for collections overall, and then overlay on top of that the third or fourth wave of COVID.”

There are other factors as well for the 21 military donor centers around the world.

Two people laying on tables, donating blood, surrounded by medical personnel
U.S. Navy corpsmen prep volunteers to donate blood and be tested for coronavirus antibodies outside of the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Marine Detachment at Camp Pendleton, California, in August 2020. The event was hosted by the Armed Services Blood Program. (Photo by Marine Lance Cpl. Drake Nickels.)

“With organizations going into and out of quarantine, service members being placed on ‘restriction of movement’ and changes in our health protection levels, it’s harder to schedule blood drives and make appointments for donors,” said Mark Salcedo, a blood donor recruiter with the Armed Services Blood Program (ASBP). “I was talking with a fellow recruiter and she reminded me of all the commands who have their staff teleworking.”

Salcedo said that when the ASBP cannot collect enough blood from donors, the blood bank must reach out to other military donor centers for blood, or even try to buy blood from the civilian market.

Collecting COVID-19 convalescent plasma meant blood collection during 2020 took on a new urgency. In April of last year, the FDA approved guidance for manufacture and transfusion of COVID-19 convalescent plasma, Corley explained.

“That has definitely been a product that the military and civilian blood industry has made in great numbers in order to support COVID patients,” he said. “Without a doubt, that blood product is having a great impact. For our standard blood products that we were already making, overall, there isn’t a large blood use for COVID patients — for red blood cells, or platelets, or for whole blood. But for COVID convalescent plasma, it has been approved by the FDA under an Emergency Use Authorization as a COVID treatment option.”

The convalescent plasma comes from recovered COVID-19 patients whose anti-body levels are at a certain level mandated by FDA, Corley said. Demand for that product has grown as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark Friskel, an independent duty medical technician and flight chief at Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee, has given blood regularly for the past eight years or so.

The process is “super easy,” he said, adding that he was not at all concerned about giving blood during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Basically, you lay down and relax watch a movie — you don’t have to do anything, really.”

But Friskel, a 14-year veteran, is concerned that information is lacking about blood donations and blood banks. He added that mentorship of new troops, such as during the First Term Airmen Course, would be an ideal time to explain the ease of blood donation and its value.

Friskel also suggested senior enlisted personnel getting the message out to fellow airmen over social media more often, or through individual videos aimed at his fellow airmen and women who have never donated before.

“I know when I was deployed, we needed blood all the time,” Friskel said.

These days, deployments are often domestic and include the Reserves and National Guard. And that’s another aspect of giving right now that’s a bit different for service members. Accustomed to protecting American citizens while abroad on the battlefield or on ships at sea, during times of COVID-19 that job can be much simpler with the humble act of a blood donation that could protect a civilian battling the virus in a hospital just down the street. 

“Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Who knows? Is the vaccine going to solve our donor shortage? Only time will tell,” said Salcedo.

“I’ve been at this nearly 40 years both in and out of uniform,” Salcedo added. “I can say this has probably been one of the toughest years for the blood program and for many donor centers. But our leadership and our staff members continue to fight every day because they know the value in what we do for our health care mission.”

You also may be interested in...

Hospitalizations, Active Component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2018

Infographic
5/1/2019
Hospitalizations

Hospitalizations, Active Component, U.S. Armed Forces, 2018 This report documents the frequencies, rates, trends, and distributions of hospitalizations of active component members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps during calendar year 2018.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Absolute and Relative Morbidity Burdens Attributable to Various Illnesses and Injuries, Non-Service Member Beneficiaries of the Military Health System, 2018

Infographic
5/1/2019
Morbidity Burdens

The current report represents an update and provides a summary of care provided to non-service members in the MHS during calendar year 2018. Healthcare burden estimates are stratified by direct versus outsourced care and across 4 age groups of healthcare recipients.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Heat Illness

Infographic
4/1/2019
Heat Illness

This report summarizes reportable medical events of heat illness as well as heat illness-related hospitalizations and ambulatory visits among active component service members during 2018 and compares them to the previous 4 years. Episodes of heat stroke and heat exhaustion are summarized separately.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Exertional Rhabdomyolysis

Infographic
4/1/2019
Exertional Rhabdomyolysis

Each year, the MSMR summarizes the numbers, rates, trends, risk factors, and locations of occurrences of exertional heat injuries, including exertional rhabdomyolysis. This report includes the data for 2014–2018.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Exertional Hyponatremia

Infographic
4/1/2019
Exertional Hyponatremia

Each year, the MSMR summarizes the numbers, rates, trends, risk factors, and locations of occurrences of exertional heat injuries, including exertional rhabdomyolysis. This report includes the data for 2014–2018.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Lyme Disease

Infographic
4/1/2019
Lyme Disease

Each year, the MSMR summarizes the numbers, rates, trends, risk factors, and locations of occurrences of exertional heat injuries, including exertional rhabdomyolysis. This report includes the data for 2014–2018.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Sexually Transmitted Infections

Infographic
3/20/2019
Sexually Transmitted Infections

This report summarizes incidence rates of the 5 most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among active component service members of the U.S. Armed Forces during 2010–2018.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Testosterone Replacement Therapy

Infographic
3/20/2019
Testosterone Replacement Therapy

With the increasing number of testosterone deficiency diagnoses and potential health risks associated with initiation of TRT, it is important to understand the epidemiology of which U.S. service men are receiving TRT and whether these individuals have an indication for receiving treatment.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Vasectomy

Infographic
3/20/2019
Vasectomy

There are few published studies of vasectomy and vasectomy reversal among the U.S. military population. To address these gaps, the current analysis describes the overall and annual incidence rates of vasectomy among active component service men during 2000–2017 by demographic and military characteristics and by type of surgical vas isolation procedure used. In addition, the median age at incident vasectomy and the time between incident vasectomy and first vasectomy reversal are described.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Male Infertility

Infographic
3/20/2019
Male Infertility

The current report updates and expands on the findings of the previous MSMR analysis of infertility among active component service men. Specifically, the current report summarizes the frequencies, rates, temporal trends, types of infertility, and demographic and military characteristics of infertility among active component service men during 2013–2017.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Adenovirus

Infographic
3/1/2019
Adenovirus

During August–September 2016, U.S. Naval Academy clinical staff noted an increase in students presenting with acute respiratory illness (ARI). An investigation was conducted to determine the extent and cause of the outbreak.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Glaucoma

Infographic
3/1/2019
Glaucoma

This report describes an analysis using the Defense Medical Surveillance System to identify all active component service members with an incident diagnosis of glaucoma during the period between 2013 and 2017.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Malaria

Infographic
3/1/2019
Malaria

Since 1999, the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report has published regular updates on the incidence of malaria among U.S. service members. The MSMR’s focus on malaria reflects both historical lessons learned about this mosquito-borne disease and the continuing threat that it poses to military operations and service members’ health.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Armed Forces Health Surveillance Division | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Infographic
1/29/2019
HPV

At the time of this report, there were no published studies of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) incidence over time among active component U.S. military personnel. Examining the incidence rates of NAFLD and their temporal trends among active component U.S. military members can provide insights into the future burden of NAFLD on the MHS.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health

Acute Flaccid Myelitis Case Reporting

Infographic
1/29/2019
Acute Flaccid Myelitis Case Reporting

This case highlights important clinical characteristics of acute flaccid myelitis and emphasizes the importance of including AFM in the differential diagnosis when evaluating active duty service members and Military Health System beneficiaries presenting with paralysis.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Epidemiology and Analysis | Medical Surveillance Monthly Report | Public Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 5 > >> 
Showing results 31 - 45 Page 3 of 5

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.