Skip to main content

Military Health System

COVID-19 hinders blood donations during National Blood Donor Month

Image of 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 & the MHS Response

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...

Genome Sequencing Assists Research at Naval Health Research Center

Article
1/24/2023
Lab technicians doing genome research

Learn how unique samples from naval vessels, US-Mexico border populations, and DOD beneficiaries aided in the Naval Health Research Center’s sequencing efforts.

Recommended Content:

Research & Innovation | Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Coronavirus

USU Students Dedication Leads to Mission Critical Lifesaving Blood Drives

Article Around MHS
1/20/2023
U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Adam Stainiger

Blood provides life-extending properties. No one knows this like U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Adam Stainiger does. Find out how his own mother's health journey prompted Stainiger's dedication hosting blood drives to help other service members and their families.

Recommended Content:

Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences | Armed Services Blood Program

Donated Blood Saves Lives

Article
1/20/2023
Military personnel donating blood

The Military Health System needs many units of blood every day. The Armed Services Blood Program has a mission to meet that need globally, whenever, and wherever needed.

Recommended Content:

Armed Services Blood Program

Toxicologists Hold Vital Role in Protecting DOD Workforce

Article Around MHS
1/20/2023
Toxicologist working in laboratory

Among the DOD's priorities, protecting warfighters from enemy combatants and weapons is critical. But there are other scenarios, when undetected, that pose threat to the health of our military. Find out why that makes the job of a DOD toxicologists so important.

Recommended Content:

Public Health

U.S. Military HIV Research Lends Lessons Learned to COVID-19

Article
1/19/2023
Gloved hands working in laboratory

The U.S. military has engaged in HIV research for three decades, contributing critical lessons learned, knowledge, and expertise during the COVID-19 research and vaccine development effort.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | DOD HIV/AIDS Prevention Program | Research & Innovation | Coronavirus

Public Health Nutritionist Shares Strategies, Resources for Meeting New Year Weight Loss Goals

Article Around MHS
1/12/2023
healthy food infographic

Don't give up on your 2023 resolution to lose weight! We've gathered some unique tips, tools, and strategies to help you stay the course and meet your goals.

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Nutritional Fitness

Naval Medical Research Center Uses Genome Sequencing for Variants

Article
1/12/2023
Military personnel pose for a group photo

NMRC’s efforts provided important support for sequencing and viral isolation to the Department of Defense and Military Health System.

Recommended Content:

Research & Innovation | Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Coronavirus

January is National Blood Donor Month

Video
1/5/2023
January is National Blood Donor Month

Blood is being collected to be shipped out all over the world and we have Army, Air Force, Navy and DOD civilians acting as the local community. Now more than ever, especially in the pandemic, we need to donate and give blood as there has been a shortage of blood donors. What better time than on National Blood Donor Month?

Recommended Content:

National Blood Donor Month | Armed Services Blood Program

USAMRIID Focuses on Genome Sequencing to Detect Variants

Article
1/5/2023
Military medical personnel in laboratory

A connected family of laboratories across the MHS allows a more rapid response to the outbreak.

Recommended Content:

Research & Innovation | Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Coronavirus

Whole Genome Sequencing at Tripler Army Medical Center

Article
12/29/2022
Dr. Keith Fong reviews data with other lab technicians

The third installment in a 6-part series highlighting the efforts of the Military Health System laboratories and the technicians who worked to identify COVID-19 variants using special sequencing technology.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Research & Innovation | Coronavirus

Walter Reed Army Institute of Research Implements SARS-CoV-2 Genome Sequencing

Article
12/23/2022
Military medical personnel in laboratory

This is the second article in a 6-part series that highlights the work of technicians and scientists in Military Health System laboratories who worked to identify COVID-19 variants using special sequencing technology.

Recommended Content:

Global Health Engagement | Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Research & Innovation

Protect Yourself With Respiratory Illnesses on the Rise

Article Around MHS
12/19/2022
Military medical personnel administering vaccine

"Tis the season, and respiratory illnesses are on the rise. Learn critical health guidance about the viral triple threat of COVID-19, influenza, and the common cold, and the commonsense steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Children's Health | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | Immunization Tool Kit | Influenza, Northern Hemisphere | Immunization Healthcare Division

Military Labs Use Whole Genome Sequencing of COVID-19 Variants

Article
12/16/2022
Lab technician at work

The first in a 6-part series highlighting the work of technicians and scientists working in support of the MHS who identified COVID-19 variants using special sequencing technology.

Recommended Content:

Research & Innovation | Coronavirus & the MHS Response | Coronavirus

DOD Reduces Health Care Waste by Reusing Crutches

Article
12/15/2022
Military personnel using crutches

When military facilities faced a national shortage of an essential mobility aid, they launched a grassroots initiative that not only ensured patient care, but also created a new waste reduction model within the DHA.

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care | Coronavirus & the MHS Response

Public Health Nurses: Heroes for Health

Article Around MHS
12/14/2022
U.S. Navy Cmdr. Tracy R. Kraus head shot

In a world where public health is constantly being challenged, the need for front-line contenders in the fight against threats is rapidly increasing. The work of the Public Health Nurse is nothing short of heroic. Learn more about the extraordinary dedication and arduous work it takes for Public Health Nurses to keep the warfighter population healthy and fit to fight and win.

Recommended Content:

Public Health
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 52
Refine your search
Last Updated: December 27, 2022
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery