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Is there REALLY a blood shortage?

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Recently I received an email on my municipal email account about a blood drive. These are not uncommon, but what drew my particular attention to this email was that a fellow city official started the email with this:

"Imagine that you are a doctor in an Emergency Room and three different people have arrived, each in desperate need of blood: a 6-year-old child that just survived a catastrophic car crash, a cancer patient whose condition has suddenly worsened, and a recent recipient of a liver transplant who has begun hemorraghing. But there is a problem! You discover that there is only enough blood for just one of your patients. What would you do? Sounds highly unlikely, doesn't it? Now imagine that you are one of the patients."

And I thought to myself, what a nice play on people's emotions to "guilt" them into giving blood. He disagreed with me that this was a "scare tactic". (I have already addressed this with our IS people) But I also started to think, is there really a blood "shortage"? I mean sure, we hear that all the time from the American Red Cross. It must be true right? But then, I have never personally heard of anyone going to a hospital and not getting blood when they needed it. Has anyone else heard of this happening? I started looking around the net and here's one thing I found:


"How critical is the shortage of blood and blood-derived products?:

Dr. Harvey Klein: We don't have extremely good data on this issue. We know that the need to go out on emergency appeal has been greater in the past year than ever before. We've had less blood on the shelves of blood centers and hospitals than ever before. The American National Red Cross has had a national emergency appeal for the first time in memory. In many cases, hospitals and medical centers have had to postpone elective and semi-elective surgery because of the lack of blood, and transfusions for medical patients have had to be delayed. Also, requests from hospitals for blood have been only partially filled by blood collectors. All of this points to a real shortage. How badly patients have been affected is unclear because we really don't collect those data." - Klein is president of the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB)

He starts and ends this paragraph stating they really don't collect data on how patients are affected by the alleged blood shortage. I wonder if there is really any accounting done on the blood supply and any comparison to a typical days usage. Is anybody out there privy to this kind of data?

Now I realize that lacking a better (read capitalist) venture for securing blood, that it is in my best interest to donate blood every once in a while, but I object to the manner in which the ARC and others attempt to secure it through their ad campaigns. I'd like to see some factual data (at least occasionally) regarding the actual state of our blood supply.


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Systematic shortages are impossible in a free market, but shortages and/or surpluses are inevitable for a monopolized good. Without market prices, it’s impossible to know whether or not there is a shortage, but certain that whatever quantity is out there, it’s either too much or too little.

By the way, have you seen the recent reports about having a "surplus" of flu shots despite a seasonal "shortage"?

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By the way, have you seen the recent reports about having a "surplus" of flu shots despite a seasonal "shortage"?

I heard that on the ol' top of the hour AM radio news yesterday. My first thought was 'oh the sweet irony' because if I am not mistaking, state health agencies restricted the demographic of people who could get a flu shot in the first place, therefore artificially capping the demand. Now that they have more flu shots, the demand is no longer there. If they had just let everyone who wanted a shot in the first place get one, everything probably would have taken care of itself.

The news report also said that the vaccines could not be stored until next flu "season". Does anyone know why? What is the shelf life of a vaccine, why can't they just "freeze" it in some manner?

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The news report also said that the vaccines could not be stored until next flu "season".  Does anyone know why?  What is the shelf life of a vaccine, why can't they just "freeze" it in some manner?

In general, freezing of vaccines reduces their immunological potency. But, regardless, the influenza vaccine is specially formulated each season to counter which viruses are expected to be active in that season.

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Central California Blood Center FAQ

Does CCBC pay donors for giving blood?

California and FDA regulations require an all-volunteer blood supply and do not permit compensation for blood as studies have shown that volunteer donors provide a safer blood supply. This regulation has been in effect since the 1970’s. The Central California Blood Center is fully committed to remaining a volunteer donor supported organization and does not pay for blood donations.

Why is there often a blood shortage?

CCBC strives to maintain an optimum inventory level of a 5 to 7 day supply. Due to unpredictable demands from trauma incidents the inventory can fluctuate hourly. When the supply drops below a three-day level, CCBC begins alerting local donors to increase the inventory to a safe operating level.

Blood can only be refrigerated for short periods of time (6 weeks). Most blood banks do not currently freeze blood.

Blood could be kept frozen for up to 20 years using existing technologies.

So would shortages go away if there better blood storage and blood management methods were used? Probably not. At least, shortages might go away, but scare tactics probably would not. Why? The current blood donation system is built on the morality of duty. If people thought "The hospitals probably have all the blood they need," would they still think "It is my duty to give blood today?"

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