Why experts are urging people to donate blood before getting COVID-19 vaccine

Kerala reported a 10% dip in blood donation in the state in the past year.
Representative image of a person donating blood
Representative image of a person donating blood
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Even as hospitals and COVID-19 patients across the country are facing a dearth of medical oxygen, health experts in Kerala are now anticipating a shortage of blood in blood banks across the state in the coming months. In fact, according to Kerala State Blood Transfusion Council, the state has been experiencing a 10% dip in blood donation ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.

Although this has not led to a shortage of blood in blood banks across the state, officials are proposing some measures, anticipating a possible shortage in the coming months. They are anticipating a shortage in view of phase three of the COVID-19 vaccination drive for those between 18 and 44 years of age from May 1.

According to the guidelines issued by the National Blood Transfusion Council, a donor can donate blood only 28 days after getting two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine doses, or if they does not take a second dose 28 days after the first dose. According to officials, since the majority of the blood donors in Kerala are between 20 and 35 years of age, blood banks and state officials are anticipating a shortage of blood in the coming months.

“Since the past year, there has been a dip in blood donation. Usually, in Kerala, the majority of voluntary blood donations happens through the outreach camps held by various associations and groups. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, such camps could not be organised, causing a dip in blood donation,” says Dr SM Balagobalam, Medical Officer at the Indian Medical Association’s Blood Bank Complex and Research Center.

He says that the vaccination drive would further escalate the dip in blood donation. “It is not just the COVID-19 vaccine but whatever vaccination a person takes, there should be a gap of 28 days before donating blood. Since the number of people in the age group of 18-45 is above one crore, we know it will not be possible for everyone to get vaccinated at the same time,” says Dr R Ramesh, Project Director of Kerala Aids Control Society, which monitors the Blood Safety Division of Kerala.

According to experts, there are several reasons donors who received a vaccine are advised to wait before donating blood. "One of the common reasons is that there is a possibility that persons who recently received a live-attenuated vaccine may have infectious agents in their blood, which could be risky if donated to immunosuppressed persons," said Dr Ramesh. Live-attenuated vaccines such as Covishield and MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccines use a living but weakened version of the virus.

Dr Ramesh recommends donating blood before taking the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Explaining how the pandemic caused a dip in donation, Dr Ramesh said, “People are apprehensive about coming to blood camps or to in-house facilities (blood banks) due to the fear of safety during a pandemic. So even though we have not faced a major shortage of blood yet, if this COVID-19 surge continues, there can be a serious deficit of blood in the state. We are therefore not taking any chances.”

Sanal Lal, General Secretary of Blood Donors Kerala, a popular blood donors group in the state, said, “The major chunk of voluntary blood donation in Kerala happens through educational institutions. However, since colleges remained shut in the past year, almost no camps were held in the past year in Kerala.”

According to officials, one of the reasons the state has not faced a severe shortage in blood amid the pandemic is due to the lesser number of scheduled surgeries and dip in the number of road accidents.

The officials have, however, started a campaign, as per the directions of the National Aids Control Organisation, urging people to make in-house blood donation — direct donations through blood banks — a few days before getting the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Small-scale blood donation camps can also be held taking all required COVID-19 safety measures.

Groups like Blood Donors Kerala have also started organising small-scale night camps for blood donation in the northern districts of the state. Sanal Lal added that the group has started a campaign to increase in-house blood donations in the coming days in the wake of the vaccination drive.

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