Officials consider easing donor restrictions as blood shortage worsens in San Antonio area

As of Monday, there is only a two and a half day supply of life saving blood.

SAN ANTONIO – It’s a critical spot our community can’t seem to get out of, a blood shortage.

The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center says there’s only about two-and-a-half days worth of blood.

Now, it poses the question, is it time to ease donor restrictions and open up the donor pool?

“The risk of not having blood versus, you know, the changing criteria just to ease those criteria so people can give more,” Adrienne Mendoza, the VP of blood operations for the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center said. “I think we’re at that point where we need to lift further some of those requirements and allow more donors to give.”

The start of the pandemic brought a drastic decline in the number of blood donors.

“There is a a blood shortage around the world of epic proportions,” Mendoza said.

Looking at how long this has lasted, Mendoza says a blood shortage of this nature is frightening.

“We haven’t seen anything like this in more than 25 years,” she said.

Now there’s an added pain, the demand for blood from hospitals has surged because of things like surgeries, car crashes, and for those going through chemotherapy.

“Unfortunately, without the donations of blood to support those patients, we just can’t serve everybody,” Mendoza explained.

It’s a classic supply and demand problem. Currently, the supply chain, blood donors have a list of requirements and restrictions set by the FDA.

Donors of whole blood must be 16 or older, weigh at least 110 pounds, and be in good health and feeling well.

It seems simple, even straightforward. That is until you look at the restrictions put into place to make sure the blood is safe.

“A lot of the rules, however, have stayed in place for a long time, and fortunately, testing has improved,” Mendoza said.

In April of 2020, the FDA eased some restrictions to prevent a critical blood shortage.

Men who’ve had sexual relationships with other men can now donate after 3 months instead of 12. The same goes for people with tattoos or piercings.

The FDA has amended its guidelines regarding military members or veterans who were stationed overseas.

If you were stationed for more than six months in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands from 1980-90, or Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal or Italy from 1980-96, you could not donate blood. You now are eligible to give.

Anyone who spent five years or more in France or Ireland from 1980-2001 will not be able to give. If you received a blood transfusion in the United Kingdom, Ireland or France since 1980, or lived in the United Kingdom for more than three months from 1980-96, you still will not be able to donate.

“The safety of blood has improved over time, and it’s allowed the FDA to reconsider a lot of those rules,” Mendoza said.

She believes because of the reliability of modern blood testing, that should allow additional sexual behavior and travel restrictions to be eased for donors. But, is it enough?

“They made those decisions to changed those rules, and they became effective earlier this year or last year. But again, we still see a declining number of donors coming through,” Mendoza explained.

Mendoza says they cannot maintain this pattern of blood shortage much longer. Other blood centers are asking hospitals to stop with voluntary surgeries to help with blood supply. The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center isn’t there yet, but Mendoza says if things get worse, that’s a possible next step.

About the Authors:

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

Joe Arredondo is a photojournalist at KSAT 12.