HATTIESBURG – The fear of coronavirus is severely impacting the U.S. blood supply as Vitalant and other blood centers across the country are struggling to maintain stable inventories and avoid a critical blood shortage. With school closures and business shutdowns, 25 percent of Vitalant’s blood collections anticipated in March have disappeared — almost overnight. And that number continues to grow.

“We need people to start turning out in force to give blood,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (the agency that regulates all U.S. blood centers). “We need it not to get to the point that surgeries are having to get canceled.”

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves said “in many of our healthcare facilities, we are having a shortage of blood. Therefore, if you have the ability and the willingness please think about going and donating blood for your fellow Mississippians. Blood donations at this point are critical, please consider giving if you can.”

It’s extremely important right now for healthy people to make a blood donation appointment by calling 877-258-4825 or going online to vitalant.org. Vitalant has nearly 125 donation centers across the country, with two in Mississippi, the closest at 805 S. 28th Ave in Hattiesburg.

New guidance from government entities recommend that people avoid gatherings. But blood drives are not gatherings: they are blood donation operations that are an “essential health care activity.” To care for patients, people should give blood, keep scheduled blood drives and organize blood drives in the coming weeks.

“It is safe to donate blood,” said Adm. Dr. Brett P. Giroir, M.D., assistant secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Healthy individuals should schedule an appointment to donate today to ensure that blood is available for those patients who need it.”

“Our blood collection sites are a ‘first response’ action to this outbreak versus a gathering that needs to be avoided,” said Dr. Ralph Vassallo, Vitalant’s chief medical and scientific officer. “If you’re healthy, you’re needed now more than ever. We cannot let it get to the point where there’s no blood available for trauma patients, those undergoing cancer treatment and patients who need regular, ongoing blood transfusions just to survive.”

Sick people should not donate blood; blood centers do not test for the Coronavirus. Blood centers have always required individuals to be in good health to donate, and the blood collection process follows policies established by the FDA to ensure the health and safety of donors and patients. Vitalant staff follow rigorous safety and disinfection protocols at its blood drives and donation centers. Giving blood has no impact on the donor's immune system.

Currently, all blood types and components are needed, with a critical need for platelets and type O blood donations. Platelets have a very short shelf life—only five days. Type O-negative blood is the universal blood type: ER doctors reach for it first to help stabilize patients before their blood type is known.

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