Red Cross announces emergency blood shortage, calls on Americans to donate

The number of blood donors has fallen 40% in the last two decades.

January 8, 2024, 12:21 PM

The American Red Cross said Monday it is experiencing an emergency blood shortage.

According to the humanitarian organization, it is seeing the lowest number of people giving blood in 20 years.

Hospitals are currently receiving blood products -- including whole blood, red blood cells, plasma and platelets -- faster than donations are coming in, the Red Cross said in a release.

This means the Red Cross, which says it supplies about 40% of the nation's blood donations, has had to limit distributions of some of the most transfused blood types to hospitals.

Dr. Eric Gehrie, a medical director at the American Red Cross, said that when hospitals don't have a full blood bank, patients who need transfusions may have delays, surgeries may be rescheduled and it may result in more of a struggle for patients with rare blood types to find donors that match.

"There is more need for blood at hospitals than we are able to provide at current donation levels and this is an issue that is really ... a long-term problem," he told ABC News.

In addition to donor numbers dropping overall, Gehrie said that since the COVID-19 pandemic began in January 2020, there has been a reduction of 300,000 blood donors.

"To put the numbers in perspective, we need an additional 8,000 donations every week in January in order to meet current hospital need," he said.

Bags of donated blood hanging in processing facility of blood bank in this undated stock photo.
STOCK PHOTO/Getty Images

The Red Cross said it experienced a 7,000-unit shortfall between Christmas and New Year's Day and challenges including respiratory virus season and winter weather could lead to more donation drives being canceled.

Gehrie said there are several factors are behind the decline in blood donations over the years including the pandemic, which led to many people staying at home and working remotely, making it challenging to host blood drives.

"In the past, the American Red Cross worked with a lot of businesses and schools who would host blood drives on site and where it was possible for a lot of people to donate blood," he said. "As the way that we learn and work has changed, it's been harder and harder to attract as many donors to a employer- or school-related blood drive."

Additionally, he said donors are sometimes deferred for reasons including iron levels, hemoglobin levels or travel restrictions. Those donors may not realize they may be able to donate at a future time, he added.

This is not the first the Red Cross has alerted the public to the diminishing blood supply.

In January 2022, during the omicron wave of the pandemic, the Red Cross said the U.S. was seeing "a national blood crisis" due to a drop in donations and donation drives.

Additionally, in September 2023, the Red Cross said the national blood supply had dropped to "critically low levels" due to summer travel and storms such has Hurricane Idalia disrupting donation collection.

According to the Red Cross, only 3% of age-eligible people, or about 6.8 million Americans, donate blood every year.

Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration dropped all restrictions related to sexually active gay and bisexual men donating blood, moving to a new blood donation risk assessment tool that is the same for every donor regardless of how they identify.

Public health experts and gay rights activists have said the new policy could help make blood donation more inclusive and reach new donors at a time when the blood supply is low.

How to donate

If you're interested in donating, the Red Cross said you can make an appointment to give blood or platelets by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).