The Oklahoma Blood Institute is facing a critical shortage of O-negative blood, the blood most commonly stocked in emergency rooms, hospitals and air ambulance flights.
Blood donations have been dangerously low throughout the pandemic, not just in Oklahoma but across the world, according to Christie Chambers, the institute’s executive director. But the low supply of O-negative is putting the institute’s 160 partner agencies at risk when it comes to immediate traumatic treatment.
“O-negative blood is the universal blood type,” Chambers said. “Right now, we are in the red with 47 units on the shelf. We’re normally in the green with 150-200 units.”
No one is donating blood right now and the consequences could be dire. That’s the warning that Chambers had about the current blood levels. While it isn’t uncommon for community members to step up in the wake of a hurricane, tornado or mass shooting to donate blood, the inherent medical nature of the COVID crisis has had a stymying effect on the usual outpouring of blood donors during disasters.
“People are scared,” Chambers said. “Either that or they are sick or have been exposed. People should know we follow all of the precautions. We wear masks, of course, and we have to follow proper medical procedures to keep things clean and sterile to be able to draw blood.”
In addition to O-negative, B-negative blood is also currently trending toward critical supply levels.
“If you or someone you know has O-negative or B-negative blood you can go to obi.org to look for blood drives in your area to make it more convenient, or you can stop by at the center at 211 Southwest A Avenue,” Chambers said.
Debbie Woodward is an O-negative blood donor who came out to the Oklahoma Blood Institute on Wednesday to donate after learning about the O-negative shortage on the radio.
“I usually donate platelets, but when I learned they were short I wanted to help if I could,” Woodward said.
Monique Brown, a regular blood donor, was also at the Institute Wednesday to donate.
“I try and come in as often as I can because it helps people,” Brown said. “I like the staff here.”
One blood donation can save as many as three lives, according to the institute. Donations typically take around an hour and anyone, 16 or older, can typically donate whole blood every 56 days, plasma every 28 days and platelets every 7 days.
Donors who have received the COVID-19 vaccine are free to donate, Chambers said, as is anyone who has contracted COVID-19 in the past but since gone through quarantine and tested negative.
September marks National Sickle Cell Awareness month, and Chambers wanted to encourage minority donors to seek out their nearest blood drive. Additionally, Hispanics and Native Americans have a higher percentage of O-negative blood than any other ethnicity.
“There is an especially great need for donors of diverse backgrounds,” Chambers said.
And if a patient doesn’t know their blood type, the easiest way to find out is to simply come in and donate.
“You go through a small health screening before your blood is drawn. Afterward we can tell you your cholesterol levels, your blood type and more,” Chambers said.
The institute is also currently performing diabetes screenings for donors, which is a $45 value according to Chambers.
Appointments to donate can be made online at obi.org or by calling 877-340-8777. While COVID-19 vaccination is not required of blood donors, those who have been vaccinated can donate immediately, assuming they are feeling well.