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

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 | 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...

MHS Minute: A Path Forward in 2021

Video
2/10/2021
MHS Minute: A Path Forward in 2021

Want to know more about what MHS organizations and partners did in 2020? For a full look at the MHS Minute series, click here: https://shorturl.at/eDL14

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

LTG Place Vaccine Roll-Out Video

Video
1/18/2021
LTG Place Vaccine Roll-Out Video

DHA Director LTG Ron Place talks about coronavirus vaccines, their safety and efficacy, and encourages everyone to do their own research to get vaccinated.

Recommended Content:

MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance | MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine

MHS Minute: December 2020

Video
12/28/2020
MHS Minute: December 2020

See how MHS is leading a phased approach to offer 11.1 million Department of Defense personnel the first COVID-19 vaccines. To learn more about the safety and efficacy behind COVID-19 vaccines, go to: https://www.health.mil/Military-Health-Topics/Combat-Support/Public-Health/Coronavirus/COVID-19-Vaccine-Efforts.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus | MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance

MHS COVID Response

Video
12/21/2020
MHS COVID Response

The men and women of the Military Health System spent 2020 working to protect beneficiaries' health during the coronavirus pandemic. Here are just a few of our accomplishments.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Heroes Behind the Mask

Video
12/17/2020
Heroes Behind the Mask

A tribute to those across the Military Health System who deserve recognition and thanks for their hard work during this pandemic.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Coronavirus | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine

COVID-19 Response

Video
12/14/2020
COVID-19 Response

USPHS Lt. Courtney Labitzky, assigned to the Javits New York Medical Station (JNYMS), talks about their position at JNYMS in support of the Department of Defense COVID-19 response, April 29, 2020. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, is providing military support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help communities in need. (U.S. Army Video by Cpl. Rachel Thicklin)

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine

MHS Minute: November 2020

Video
11/27/2020
MHS Minute: November 2020

During Warrior Care Month, we reflect on the strength and resilience of our nation's wounded, ill, and injured service members, and recognize the caregivers who support their recovery and rehabilitation.

Recommended Content:

Warrior Care | Coronavirus | Warrior Care

COVID-19 Response2

Video
11/27/2020
COVID-19 Response2

Army Spc. Sean Colangelo, assigned to the Javits New York Medical Station (JNYMS), talks about their position at JNYMS in support of the Department of Defense COVID-19 response, April 23, 2020. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, is providing military support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help communities in need. (U.S. Army Video by Cpl. Rachel Thicklin)

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Coronavirus | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine

COVID-19 Response

Video
11/27/2020
COVID-19 Response

Army Pfc. David Alvarado, assigned to the Javits New York Medical Station (JNYMS), talks about their position at JNYMS in support of the Department of Defense COVID-19 response, April 24, 2020. U.S. Northern Command, through U.S. Army North, is providing military support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help communities in need. (U.S. Army Video by Cpl. Rachel Thicklin.)

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Coronavirus | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine

MHS Minute: Heroes Behind the Mask

Video
10/8/2020
MHS Minute: Heroes Behind the Mask

In the face of a global threat, healthcare heroes across the MHS have donned their mask, and served on the front line of the battle against COVID-19. Tune in to this month's "MHS Minute" to learn more!

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Coronavirus

The Military Health System Celebrates Labor Day

Video
9/4/2020
The Military Health System Celebrates Labor Day

Labor Day pays tribute to the American workforce. This year, we pay tribute to the Military Health System Workforce.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine

MHS Minute: A Call to Action for Convalescent Plasma Donation

Video
8/24/2020
MHS Minute: A Call to Action for Convalescent Plasma Donation

Have you recovered from COVID-19, or tested positive for antibodies? Consider donating convalescent plasma. For eligibility requirements, and to find a donor center near you, go to https://www.militaryblood.dod.mil/Donors/COVID-19andBloodDonation.aspx

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Convalescent Plasma Collection Program | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Armed Services Blood Program

Convalescent Plasma Donation PSA featuring Lt. General Place

Video
7/10/2020
Convalescent Plasma Donation PSA featuring Lt. General Place

Lt. Gen Place asks servicemembers DoD-wide to consider dontating plasma in the fight against COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Convalescent Plasma Collection Program | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine | Armed Services Blood Program

MHS Minute: DoD Focused on COVID-19 Testing and Treatment

Video
6/25/2020
MHS Minute: DoD Focused on COVID-19 Testing and Treatment

Have you recovered from COVID-19, or tested positive for antibodies? Consider donating convalescent plasma. To learn how, go to https://www.militaryblood.dod.mil/

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Vaccine

MHS Minute: Military Leading the Charge on COVID-19 Research

Video
5/28/2020
MHS Minute: Military Leading the Charge on COVID-19 Research

The military continues to serve on the front lines of research and treatment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tune in to the MHS Minute to learn more.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus
<< < 1 2 3 4 5 > >> 
Showing results 31 - 45 Page 3 of 5
Refine your search
Last Updated: April 28, 2021

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.