As SARS-CoV-2 was emerging in early 2020, Canadian Blood Services and other blood operators were unsure how their operations and the blood supply would be affected. Now, over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, by Canadian Blood Services’ medical officer, Dr. Aditi Khandelwal, looks back on the pandemic’s impact on blood donations in Canada. Using data on donor attendance, donor eligibility and donation events, Dr. Khandelwal paints a picture of a resilient blood system thanks in large part to dedicated blood donors.
Despite challenges, donors kept coming through the doors
Between February and May 2020, there was a decline in the number of blood collections and in donor attendance at donor sites. This was due to a multitude of factors. Firstly, the pandemic led to changes at Canadian Blood Services’ donor sites. Enhanced cleaning, social distancing and wellness checkpoints meant sites could no longer manage as many donors as before. To accommodate these new safety measures, all donors were required to book appointments and the option to drop-in for a donation was removed. Logistical challenges meant many mobile collection events were cancelled.
Additionally, the early part of the pandemic was a time of great uncertainty and fear, as lockdowns were implemented across Canada and the world. As a result, many donors either cancelled or were unable to attend blood donation appointments. Efforts were made to encourage donation, including a call to action by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and by later in 2020, levels of blood donation had returned to almost pre-pandemic levels.
Changes in donor selection criteria helped balance out lost donations
Both Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec, the organization tasked with collecting blood in Quebec, adapted their donor assessment policies and donor eligibility criteria in response to the pandemic. As part of the wellness checks established at the entrance of donor centres, donors received a temperature check.
COVID-19 meant necessary changes to donor eligibility criteria; for example, donors cannot donate for 14 days if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, and donors who catch COVID-19 are also temporarily deferred. Other donor selection criteria were altered to help mitigate blood supply shortages. The hemoglobin cut-off threshold for donors was temporarily reduced, meaning more people were eligible to donate at a time when donations were needed.
Overall, the resilience of Canada’s blood supply meant that patient needs continued to be met despite the challenges of the pandemic. Donation sites adapted to the necessary public health measures and were able to maintain safety for donors, staff, contractors, and volunteers. Most importantly, Canadian Blood Services’ donors—a vital part of Canada’s lifeline—showed their ongoing commitment to blood donation during the pandemic, and for that we are truly grateful.
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The opinions reflected in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Canadian Blood Services nor do they reflect the views of Health Canada or any other funding agency.