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Washington blood donations running low due to vaccine misconceptions

Misconceptions about the COVID-19 vaccine seem to be causing a shortage in blood donations in Washington — and it may get worse in the coming weeks.

Bloodworks Northwest, which collects blood donations all over the Puget Sound, says its supply is running dangerously low of what is needed to keep a steady stock of blood in Washington and Oregon. This comes at a time when, for unknown reasons, blood use by hospitals has been 10% higher than normal for several weeks.

“Looking into the next few weeks, we are hundreds of appointments short of what we need to maintain a healthy blood supply,” said Curt Bailey, CEO of Bloodworks Northwest.

The nonprofit supplies nearly all of the hospitals in western Washington and western Oregon with blood. These transfusions are given to people such as car accident victims who have lost a dangerous amount of blood, or cancer patients whose bone marrow is not making enough platelets. Maintaining this stock of blood requires roughly 1,000 people per day to register to give blood, according to Bloodworks Northwest.

Pop-up blood centers open donations to ‘whole new audience’

Unfortunately, fewer people are signing up right now — which Bailey believes is largely due to misunderstandings about the coronavirus vaccine.

“There has been some confusion about eligibility to donate after one receives the vaccine,” Bailey said.

He is not sure whether people mistakenly believe that the vaccine somehow contaminates their blood and renders it unfit for donation, or if they are afraid that the blood loss and any possible vaccine side effects may combine to make them feel sick. Either way, he fears that with the vaccine opening to all adults in the coming weeks, this could mean an even greater void in blood donations.

“If too many people have the misperception that they can’t donate, well, at the pace of vaccination, we could have an awful lot of donors who decide not to come in in the next couple of months,” he said.

Bailey said it is completely safe to donate blood after receiving the vaccine.

“You can donate right before or right after,” he said.

There are no side effects to blood donation, apart from the chance of temporary fatigue and light-headedness for a day or two after you give blood. To combat this, after your appointment, you should make sure to eat plenty of healthy food and drink plenty of water, take time to rest, and wait a day before doing strenuous exercise.

To ensure that you don’t have any minor vaccine and blood loss side effects on the same day, it may be best to wait a day after getting the shot before you give blood. However, the Red Cross says that there is no need to wait for a period of days or weeks after receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

Bloodworks is also doing everything it can to make sure that donating blood is a COVID-safe procedure. It is all done by appointment-only, to keep from being too crowded. Masks are worn, surfaces are regularly sanitized, and people are kept at a distance from each other. Bailey said the fear of being infected with COVID has not kept donors away over the last year.

If you want to help out, visit Bloodworks Northwest’s website and make an appointment at your nearest location. Bloodworks has clinics all over the Puget Sound, from Bellingham to Eugene, Oregon.

Bloodworks is also holding pop-up blood drives in artistic and cultural venues that have had to close during the pandemic, such as the Museum of Flight or the Seattle Aquarium, to make the process a little more fun.

“You can enjoy the experience of donating in this really special place,” Bailey said, adding, “We’ll leave the pandemic behind, but we want to take these pop-up drives with us into the future.”

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