Young blood wanted: Local blood banks face shortages


Image via Wikimedia Commons

Hospitals in the western Pennsylvania region could potentially face a major blood shortage as a result of insufficient donation rates.

By Alexander Hanna, For The Pitt News

Despite a couple delays in setting up equipment, the American Red Cross kicked off the first blood drive of the fall semester at Pitt on Thursday. Students willing to roll up their sleeves and get poked with a needle trickled in and out of the William Pitt Union Assembly Room throughout the afternoon.

Some student donors came because they knew there was strength in numbers. Jason Ong, the president of Pitt’s American Red Cross Club and a senior neuroscience major, said he donates frequently because he not only understands the importance blood has to those who need it, but also realizes blood has an expiration date.

“I believe that blood is a really important resource, it can save a ton of lives,” Ong said. “The real issue now is that blood is the resource that once you donate [it], it doesn’t last forever, it only lasts for six to eight weeks, which means we need a lot of people to keep donating blood on a regular basis.”

A drastic drop in the number of donors has caused a blood shortage at many local hospitals. The United States needs 32,000 pints of blood each day. Local blood collectors and distributors, like the American Red Cross and Vitalant, have been working to get more people to donate, particularly younger ones such as college students.

According to Vitalant Pittsburgh spokesperson Kristen Lane, one of the biggest problems is that the population who donates the most is now aging into the population who uses the most blood.

“People in the baby boomer age range are our most loyal and regular donors,” Lane said. “The problem now is that a lot of baby boomers are, let’s face it, getting old and they’re turning from our donors into our users and that took care of a big chunk of our donors.”

Less than 10% of Americans eligible to donate have given blood. Recent blood shortages are due primarily to the fact that younger people are much less likely to be blood donors, Lane said.

“The population that we really want to reach is our millennials, because we have found that millennials simply are not donating blood and we don’t know why this is,” Lane said. “Because we’re losing a lot of our donors through age, we’re looking to younger people.”

For Vitalant and the local hospitals it serves, this drop is unprecedented. Lane said a major concern is the blood supply in case of an emergency.

“Right now in western Pennsylvania, we are at a critical level, we are at an unprecedented shortage of blood and what we’re concerned about is the hospitals’ emergency supply of blood that they keep on hand if there is a disaster,” Lane said.

While low millennial donation rates contribute to the ongoing blood shortage, there are numerous other reasons behind it. Strict regulations set by the FDA narrow the amount of potential donors by disqualifying others in an effort to keep blood safe from impurities. The FDA prevents any persons who have traveled outside the United States to South America or Caribbean from donating blood because there is a possibility of Zika and malaria infection.

The requirements for donating blood do not just apply to dangerous tropical diseases. Many people could be ineligible if they have gotten a tattoo in Pennsylvania within the past year. According to Mayo Clinic, failure to use sterile equipment could result in blood-borne illnesses such as MRSA, HIV and Hepatitis B and C. In a Pew Research study, it was cited that 38% of young people ages 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo.

“Pennsylvania does not regulate tattoo facilities, and as a result there could be a tattoo facility that does not use clean needles,” Lane said. “We’re not permitted to let anyone who had a tattoo in the state of PA donate for 12 months.”

In an effort to get more young people to donate, UPMC and Highmark Foundation awarded Vitalant $200,000 in grants. Their outreach includes a social media campaign, high school scholarship program and presentations at civic organizations.

Reduced intake of blood donations coupled with multiple requirements for donors to quality create challenges for blood donors and blood banks alike. Despite millennials being the most hesitant to donate, there are still Pitt students doing their best to make sure blood banks get the blood they need. Students around campus donate for a variety of reasons and causes.

Another student at Thursday’s blood drive, first-year nursing major Jordan Badorrek, said she donated because it’s an easy way for her to continuously give back to the community.

“Well I’ve donated in the past, and I think it’s important for everyone to do it because it’s easy to do,” said Badorrek. “I just donate because I feel it makes a difference in other people’s lives.”

One donation of blood can potentially save up to three lives, something which inspired first-year Russian language major Julie O’Brien to step up to donate.

“I’m donating because the idea of giving something so little to help people so much is hard to grasp, but I understand the significance of it, and I know I can help people without any detriment to myself,” O’Brien said. “I can just give my blood and it will help people.”

While there are students like O’Brien willing to step up, there’s a desperate need for more people to do the same or western Pennsylvania could face fatal consequences, according to Lane.

“There is true potential that if the blood supply continues to shrink, people will not survive,” Lane said.

Anyone interested in donating blood can visit, schedule an appointment at their local donor center at or download the Vitalant app.