It's likely no coincidence that January is National Blood Donor month.
"It is actually a perfect time for that to happen because it's a new year, a new start, people can resolve to do something good and blood donation is definitely one of those," said Sue Thesenga, regional communications manager for the American Red Cross Minnesota and Dakotas Region.
Most critical is the need for convalescent plasma, which can only be donated by people who have recovered from COVID-19. Kaiser Health News reported that convalescent plasma uses an antibody-rich blood product taken from people who have recovered from a viral infection and injects it into people still suffering in the hopes that the therapy will jump-start their immune systems, boosting their ability to fight the virus.
"Right now, the Red Cross does have a national convalescent plasma shortage," Thesenga said. "That is due to the increase or continuing rise of COVID-19 cases and therefore, a bigger demand for this convalescent blood product as a treatment."
Those who donate through the Red Cross will have their blood tested for COID-19 antibodies and can learn the result of the test a week or two after their donation.
Both Thesenga, with the Red Cross, and Mayo Clinic Dr. Justin Juskewitch, said the need for whole blood wasn't critical, but donations have been lower than in years past.
Juskewitch said normally the clinic's blood donation center collects about 1,500 red cell units a month, but that number has been closer to 1,250 units during the last four months.
"Overall, we have been running a little leaner than we would like, but it certainly has not been to the point where we have needed to change our patient care or surgical volumes to adjust for the fact that we have collected less blood products over the last several months compared to last year," Juskewitch said. "We've been relying on our external blood provider, who has been helping to supplement our need, but they are also in short supply."
Juskewitch said there is still plenty of need for whole blood and the usage in the last five or six months has been higher than planned. If you've been among the first rounds of people to receive the coronavirus vaccine, you can still donate whole blood.
The ongoing pandemic has also slowed blood drives, but Thesenga said the Red Cross is looking for hosts. In Austin, the Hormel Historic Home hosted a blood drive on Jan. 8. According to the organization's executive director Holly Johnson, more than 30 people participated in the event -- including Johnson.
"I encourage people to give blood," she said after donating for the first time in a number of years. "It really was painless and easy and a fairly comfortable process. Get out there and do it."
How to donate
As a result of the pandemic, most blood donation centers are by appointment only.
The Mayo Clinic in Rochester has two donation centers. Donation can be given at the Hilton Building or on Saint Marys Campus by calling 507-284-4475 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
American Red Cross blood drive sites can be found online at www.redcrossblood.org/give.html or by calling 1-800-Red-Cross. Those who donate with the Red Cross during January will be entered to win tickets to next year's Super Bowl. Those who donate before Jan. 20 will also be entered to win a big game at home package, which includes a TV and a $500 gift card.
Blood donation at a glance
- Whole blood donations can be given every 12 weeks.
- Whole blood is good for about 42 days and then needs to be disposed of or frozen for long-term storage.
- Platelet donations can be given about every eight days, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has put an annual limit on how much a person can donate -- 24 times over a 12-month period.
- Platelets are only good for about five days after donation.