Effective strategies to avoid blood shortage in the COVID-19 pandemic

Effective strategies to avoid blood shortage in the COVID-19 pandemicBlood transfusions continue to play an important role in health care. The COVID-19 pandemic and government responses have severely impacted the timely provision of blood products, which could put patients at risk.

A deeper understanding of the complexity and fragility of the blood supply chain under such unprecedented challenges is essential. The research carried out by Professor Xiaojun Wang (University of Bristol), Professor Xu Chen (University of Electronic Science and Technology of China) and Dr Ying Li (NHS Blood & Transplant) analysed 83,793 blood donations in six Chinese cities from January to Match 2020. Massive disruptions to both blood supply and demand were observed during the outbreak of coronavirus. The authors propose several effective strategies to assist in navigating through these rapidly evolving difficulties.

First, proper safety measures are essential. Many donors have temporarily suspended blood donation due to concerns about getting infected. Common practices such as collection-site disinfection, social distance, hand washing or sanitisation, and effective blood-screening systems are essential to ease donors’ anxiety and concerns related to COVID-19. Face masks can be provided to donors who have difficulty accessing them. Dedicated shuttle buses can be arranged to pick up/drop off blood donors to minimise possible exposures. Precise donation appointment times can minimise waiting time.

Second, donor characteristics should be considered. Demographic analysis shows that more male donors donated blood during the initial period of the outbreak. Furthermore, repeat donors play a critical role in ensuring blood supply during the pandemic. Despite a substantial decline in the overall blood donation after the outbreak of coronavirus, the proportion of repeated donors increased significantly. Donors across all demographic groups tended to donate a larger volume of blood because a greater personal effort is often made by individuals to donate blood during a pandemic. Blood banks and the general public need to recognise and appreciate their contribution.

Third, continual donor engagement and blood donation campaign are required at appropriate times. Strong community support for helping by giving blood was observed during the national campaign of blood donation in China. The increased desire to donate blood following the COVID-19 pandemic may be short-lived. Therefore, continual education and engagement with these donors are essential to keep them on the blood donor register. Moreover, a blood donation campaign via social media proves to be effective, but should be used before the anticipated demand surge to avoid overwhelming situations which lead to wastage and high costs.

Fourth, scientific management of blood distribution is essential to manage the blood shortage in the pandemic. Frequent transhipments of blood have taken place among the blood banks in China to alleviate blood shortages. Timely communication and cooperation between the blood banks and hospitals with strategies to optimise blood collections and usage are important. Blood banks need to be prepared and to have the ability to transport products to areas experiencing either disproportionate supply reduction or extraordinary demand.

by Professor Xiaojun Wang