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Need for blood donations goes on despite crisis

As people follow doctors' orders to stay home, those who depend on donated blood—and public-health officials—are urging donors to keep giving. Caroline Lennox has a compromised immune system, making her more vulnerable to COVID-19.
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Caroline Lennox at her home in Brentwood Bay. Lennox administers a liquid medicine that contains antibodies which protect her against infection. Photo by ADRIAN LAM/TIMES COLONIST

As people follow doctors' orders to stay home, those who depend on donated blood—and public-health officials—are urging donors to keep giving.

Caroline Lennox has a compromised immune system, making her more vulnerable to COVID-19. To maintain her health, she relies on a product made of antibodies from donated blood.

"It's like filling up my immune system's gas tank every week," said the Victoria resident.

But Canadian Blood Services has reported a spike in cancellations in cities across the country, leaving Lennox concerned about access to her weekly treatment.

"It allows me to live. It keeps me from getting really sick and getting chronic low-grade infections. It allows my immune system to have a fighting chance," Lennox said. "I'm worried I won't be able to get another supply."

Canada's top doctor encouraged people to continue donating blood in an update to the country Tuesday. Dr. Theresa Tam, the country's chief public medical health officer, said strong cleaning measures, screening and infection control at donation clinics mean it's still safe to give blood.

"I would like to remind Canadians that there is an ongoing need to continue donating blood. We need blood donors to book and keep their appointments to prevent shortages," she said.

Dr. Isra Levy, a senior official with Canadian Blood Services, said Monday that donations dropped about 20 per cent late last week because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic and he's worried about making up the difference.

Though some hospitals have cancelled elective surgeries, demand resulting from trauma from accidents and for cancer patients who need regular transfusions continues, Levy said.

Levy said while Canadian Blood Services' national blood inventory allows products to be shifted around the country as needed and inventory is strong, the increase in donor cancellations—including corporate blood drives—could mean critical shortages are days away.

About 400,000 of Canada's 37 million residents give blood on a regular basis.

Canadian Blood Services has emphasized that it's safe to visit clinics, since prospective donors are carefully screened for symptoms of illness, including mild ones. Those with any symptoms are not allowed to donate blood and are instructed not to visit.

Canadian Blood Services said in a statement they've coped with large-scale public health concerns in the past, including SARS, West Nile virus, Zika and H1N1.

"We're taking additional measures to enhance our protocols to better protect anyone who comes through our doors," the non-profit said. They ask anyone who is healthy and eligible to continue to book and keep their appointments.

Lennox hopes people heed the message. "Please keep donating," she said.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

— With files from Canadian Press

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