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FDA changes opens doors to blood donation

  • Published
  • By Glenn S. Robertson
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently released an industry guidance document that grants military personnel previously disallowed from donating blood the opportunity to participate in the life-saving activity.

Previously, individuals were unable to donate if they had traveled to France, Ireland or the United Kingdom or received a blood transfusion in those countries, due to the risk of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, also known as mad cow disease. With the new guidance, these donors are eligible to donate if they meet all other eligibility criteria.

After considerable research, the FDA concluded that the risk of transmission of vCJD through blood donation was effectively negligible, and now allows tens of thousands of previously deferred potential donors to give blood, according to press releases from the American Red Cross and Vitalant, the two largest blood providers in the U.S.

The Armed Services Blood Program leadership welcomed the news, as the newly enlarged donor pool has the potential to make an impact for a service member or veteran in need.

“Blood safety is always our top priority,” stated Navy Captain Leslie Riggs, ASBP Division Chief. “With the newly released FDA guidelines regarding vCJD deferral, we are excited to welcome back donors who were previously deferred and now have the opportunity to save lives for our warfighters and families in need. It is a welcomed change.”

The deferral comes at a time when blood banks and blood collection agencies are struggling to keep blood supply up to meet increased nationwide demand, with Vitalant suffering a depletion of nearly 50% of their supply nationwide, creating an emergency shortage.

“We are eager to welcome the tens of thousands of donors who have recently become eligible to give blood due to the FDA’s updated guidance,” said Cliff Numark, senior vice president of Donor Services at Vitalant. “We also encourage everyone who at one time may have been told they couldn’t give blood to take another look at current eligibility requirements, as this is just one of several updates over the past few years.”

The decline in available blood supply affects the military community, just as it does the civilian populace.

“The military uses a lot of blood, and because we have Level One trauma centers, we go through blood units like crazy,” said 2nd Lt. Kory Westers, Base Blood Program Officer for F.E. Warren. “When an emergency arises, there’s always an increased demand on certain products such as O Negative blood, which is always in demand because it’s the ‘universal donor’ product.”

Though F.E. Warren does not need blood for procedures conducted on base, the donation drives that happen on base are crucial in supporting other service members and veterans through a Memorandum of Understanding with a local blood provider.

The base recently signed a MOU with Vitalant, which stipulates that for every five units of blood donated on base, the organization will give one “credit” to F.E. Warren, which they can then redeem for a unit of blood when needed. Typically, according to Westers, these credits are donated to agencies like the ASBP or Veterans Affairs, which have a more pressing need for units of blood.

Though many countries in Europe had been removed from the deferral list for vCJD, and those it impacted welcomed back to donating blood, those deferrals remained for the U.K., France and Ireland for those who traveled to one of those countries during a certain period for a cumulative amount of time.

Westers also noted that the VA estimated 4.4 million veterans, service members and civilians were banned from blood donation by the deferrals, and now there is a real opportunity for military members to step up and help replenish the nation’s diminished blood supply.

Blood transfusions made possible through blood donation saves lives. If you’d like to support this life-saving effort, the next blood drive on F.E. Warren will be Oct. 14 at Fall Hall.


Editor’s Note: Mention of non-government agencies does not imply endorsement by the Department of Defense, the U.S. Air Force or the 90th Missile Wing.