Tuesday, August 17, 2021 (Kaiser News) — The nation’s roiling tensions over vaccination against covid-19 have spilled into an unexpected arena: lifesaving blood transfusions.
With nearly 60% of the eligible U.S. population fully vaccinated, most of the nation’s blood supply is now coming from donors who have been inoculated, experts said. That’s led some patients who are skeptical of the shots to demand transfusions only from the unvaccinated, an option blood centers insist is neither medically sound nor operationally feasible.
“We are definitely aware of patients who have refused blood products from vaccinated donors,” said Dr. Julie Katz Karp, who directs the blood bank and transfusion medicine program at Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia.
Emily Osment, an American Red Cross spokesperson, said her organization has fielded questions from clients worried that vaccinated blood would be “tainted,” capable of transmitting components from the covid vaccines. Red Cross officials said they’ve had to reassure clients that a covid vaccine, which is injected into muscle or the layer of skin below, doesn’t circulate in the blood.
“While the antibodies that are produced by the stimulated immune system in response to vaccination are found throughout the bloodstream, the actual vaccine components are not,” Jessa Merrill, the Red Cross director of biomedical communications, said in an email.
So far, such demands have been rare, industry officials said. Dr. Louis Katz, chief medical officer for ImpactLife, an Iowa-based blood center, said he’s heard from “a small handful” of patients asking for blood from unvaccinated donors. And the resounding answer from centers and hospitals, he added, has been “no.”
“I know of no one who has acceded to such a request, which would be an operational can of worms for a medically unjustifiable request,” Katz wrote in an email.
In practical terms, blood centers have only limited access to donated blood that has not in some way been affected by covid. Based on samples, Katz estimated that as much as 60% to 70% of the blood currently being donated is coming from vaccinated donors. Overall, more than 90% of current donors have either been infected with covid or vaccinated against it, said Dr. Michael Busch, director of the Vitalant Research Institute, who is monitoring antibody levels in samples from the U.S. blood supply.