By Jonesa Rodriguez - January 04, 2021
Organizations across the country are urging healthy individuals to continue to donate blood to help overcome a platelet shortage. Due to its short shelf life and the cancellation of many blood drives because of COVID-19, platelet products are in high demand.
This shortage is having an impact on blood banks and health care facilities, as well as a direct impact on those fighting cancers. According to Dr. Kaaron Benson, medical director of the blood bank at Moffitt Cancer Center, there are many reasons why cancer patients need platelet transfusions.
“Many patients with cancer have low platelet counts either due to the disease affecting their ability to make their own or the therapies that we provide that cause the patient to temporarily be unable to make platelets,” said Benson.
Platelets are the cells that circulate within our blood and bind together when they recognize damaged blood vessels. Not only do they help stop bleeding, they also prevent bleeding. Vital to the clotting process, platelets are critical in the treatment of cancer patients, as they are the primary recipients. In 2019, Moffitt performed 11,621 platelet transfusions, which have increased every year as patient volumes have grown.
“The platelets that come from one bag of whole blood are not enough for an adult patient. We either have to pool multiple bags together or only collect platelets from a single donor through a process known as apheresis,” said Benson.
As the demand for platelets increases, blood banks such as SunCoast Blood Centers are reaching out to educate the public on the importance of platelet donations.
“Platelets are only viable for five days,” said Joan Leonard, community liaison for SunCoast. “Because platelets have a much shorter shelf life than blood, it is a constant balancing act to keep enough inventory on hospital shelves.”
Leonard says the bright side of platelet collection is people can donate every two weeks or up to 24 times a year.
Blood centers are ensuring the public that donating platelets and blood is still a safe procedure and COVID-19 does not pose any known risk to blood donors during the donation process. All blood donations are being tested for COVID-19 antibodies. Blood centers are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and must follow specific guidelines to ensure safe blood is available for patients at all times.
“All blood collection equipment and supplies are sterilized and only used once. Blood collection agencies are working to prevent any transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19 to their donors or their staff members,” said Benson.