Blood bank reports critical shortage in all blood types

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Fear of the COVID-19 delta variant and other factors have led to a critical shortage at the Blood Bank of Hawaii, which reports it has less than a day’s supply of the blood types most in demand.

The fall months typically are not a difficult season for blood collection, but the blood bank said donations were down 20% in September compared with its monthly average for the year, resulting in a deficit of 800 doses. Additionally, donations are down about 15% from this time in 2020 and 2019.

The shortages range across all blood types, according to blood bank CEO Kim-Anh Nguyen.

“The difference is that usually it’s our goal to have a one-week supply of blood in the state of Hawaii,” she said Thursday. “Where we are over the past two weeks, since the middle of September, we have been short. Right now, opening today, we are short on all blood types. That is unusual.”

The shortages include less than a day’s supply of O-negative, the universal blood type used for emergency transfusions and for immune-deficient infants. For O-positive, the most common blood type, there was only an eight-hour supply.

“That means if we had nothing else coming in by the afternoon, we’d be down to zero, nothing on our shelves,” Nguyen said. “And we are very nervous when we get down to a one-day supply.”

There’s also less than a day’s supply of A-positive, the most common blood type behind O-positive. The blood bank normally has 100 doses on hand and up to 300 at times, according to Nguyen, but “we have been down to 30 for days now. That’s very unusual.”

“This is what scares us, because that means that next car crash and they call for blood, we have nothing to give.”

BBH is the sole provider of blood to the 18 civilian hospitals in the state and one on Guam. Keeping a steady inventory requires an average of 150 donors a day, seven days a week, Nguyen said, “and that hasn’t been happening.”

The agency has been forced to short hospitals on supplies, leaving them with 60% to 80% of their normal inventory of O- positive and A-positive blood, she said

Throughout most of the pandemic, Hawaii has been close to self-sufficient in terms of its blood supply, needing little imported blood from mainland agencies, she said. But that’s no longer an option since the situation in many regions of the country is far worse than in Hawaii.

“Right now on the mainland there’s a critical shortage and there’s no blood to import. We have been looking every day,” Nguyen said.

AABB, along with America’s Blood Centers and the American Red Cross, issued a joint statement Sept. 29 calling the blood supply in the United States “dangerously low — an uncommon occurrence for this time of year.”

Nguyen said the situation in Hawaii hasn’t been this bad since June 2020, when the state began reopening after the first COVID-19 restrictions were eased and hospitals resumed elective surgeries, rapidly increasing the demand for blood.

“By the middle of June — I remember that day, June 18 — there was one day when we had no blood on our shelves, and it was a very difficult week. Thank goodness we went out on appeal and the community came out. But it has been more than a year since we’ve been in that situation,” she said.

The spread of the highly contagious delta variant in 2021 has limited BBH operations and kept some donors away. The blood bank “hunkered down,” Nguyen said, and consolidated donations to three Oahu sites: its Dillingham Boulevard and Young Street donor centers and bloodmobiles at Waikele Center.

Now demand is increasing again as COVID-19-related hospitalizations have dropped in recent weeks and medical facilities have resumed elective surgeries.

Blood collection remains confined to the three Oahu locations, but starting Oct. 15, a donation site will be open seven days a week at Windward Mall, and in November the blood bank will resume operations on Maui, Nguyen reported. The agency also is reconnecting with its LifeSavers clubs of regular volunteers.

In the meantime BBH is increasing the number of appointments available and moving closer to normal operations to support growing hospital needs, Nguyen said.

Nguyen emphasized the agency follows strict federal and state health and safety protocols, and that additional safety procedures are in place, including a pre-donation screening process and short physical exam with temperature checks.

BBH reports that 97% of its staff is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and Nguyen said no donors have gotten infected with the virus from giving blood.

There’s no waiting period for donors after receiving the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine, she added.

DONATE BLOOD

Register to donate blood at bbh.org, or call 848-4770. Appointments are required.

>> Young Street Donor Center, 1907 Young St. Hours are 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 6:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

>> Dillingham Donor Center, 2043 Dillingham Blvd. Hours are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

>> Waikele Center (bloodmobiles), 94-849 Lumiaina St. Hours are 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

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