Red Cross Accepts Blood Donations From People Vaccinated Against COVID-19

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SciCheck Digest

The American Red Cross and other blood collectors in the U.S. strongly encourage everyone who is feeling healthy to donate blood, including people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine. But a social media post falsely implies the organization does not use the blood from vaccinated people.

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The American Red Cross has made clear that people who have received a COVID-19 vaccine are eligible to give blood if they are feeling healthy.

The Food and Drug Administration guidelines for blood establishments say that people who were vaccinated with any of the COVID-19 vaccines approved or authorized for use in the U.S. — Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson — do not need to wait any time between vaccination and donation, as long as they’re feeling healthy and have a normal temperature.

 

The FDA guidance says that only people who do not know what type of vaccine they received or got vaccinated with a live attenuated COVID-19 vaccine would need to wait two weeks after vaccination to give blood. Currently, there are no live attenuated COVID-19 vaccines, which contain a live but weakened virus, authorized or approved for use by the FDA or the World Health Organization.

The Red Cross also requires a two- to four-week wait for donors who received other live attenuated vaccines, such as the vaccine for measles or yellow fever, “out of an abundance of caution.” People who want to give blood should carry their vaccination card with the name of the vaccine manufacturer at the time of making a donation.

“You may still donate blood, platelets or plasma after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine,” the Red Cross says on a website addressing blood donations and the coronavirus.

Yet, posts on social media continue to mislead about the eligibility of vaccinated people to give blood, and about the way the Red Cross uses those donations. “sooooo Red Cross won’t use vaxxed blood ?? did I hear this correct??? I mean   this is normal right? nothing to see here?  and frankly I should know if I’m being given contaminated blood    no?,” reads one post published on Facebook on April 20.

As we said, that is not correct.

“[T]he American Red Cross accepts and uses donations from vaccinated people,” a spokesperson for the American Red Cross told us in an email. “Blood donations from individuals who have received a COVID-19 vaccine are not ‘contaminated’ and are safe for blood transfusion. The COVID-19 vaccine is designed to generate an immune response to help protect an individual from illness, but vaccine components themselves are not found within the bloodstream.”

The Red Cross told us the organization does not label blood donations based on vaccination status given that vaccination itself does not make blood unsafe.

People who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can also donate blood 10 days after complete resolution of symptoms or 10 days after testing positive for COVID-19 if they did not develop symptoms, according to the FDA guidance.

“Respiratory viruses, in general, are not known to be transmitted by blood transfusion. There have been no reported cases of transfusion-transmitted coronavirus, including SARS-CoV-2, worldwide,” the FDA says in its guidance.

In December 2021, the Association for the Advancement of Blood & Biotherapies, America’s Blood Centers and the American Red Cross issued a joint statement urging healthy people to donate blood given a drastic decline in donations during the pandemic. Among the reasons for the decline, according to the statement, was “misinformation regarding donor eligibility after receiving an authorized COVID-19 vaccine.”

“Individuals who have received a COVID-19 vaccine currently authorized in the U.S. … are able to donate blood and platelets as long as they are symptom-free and feeling well at the time of donation,” the statement clarified.

In February, the Red Cross, which supplies 40% of the blood supply in the U.S., said it was facing the “worst blood shortage in over a decade.” A spokesperson for the Red Cross told us that as of April 21, the organization was not experiencing a blood shortage.

“We are grateful to the hundreds of thousands of individuals who have rolled up a sleeve to help alleviate the blood crisis in early 2022. However, the Red Cross blood supply remains vulnerable. Individuals are urged to schedule a blood or platelet donation to help ensure patients receive the care they need,” the Red Cross told us.

Convalescent Plasma Donations

Misinformation on convalescent plasma donation also has been recurring during the pandemic. 

Last year, we debunked a false claim about the Red Cross not accepting convalescent plasma donations from people who had received a COVID-19 vaccine because, the claim wrongly said, vaccination would “wipe out” people’s antibodies. Convalescent plasma is the plasma, or clear fluid part of blood, of people who have recovered from a disease. It contains potentially protective antibodies against that disease.

Clinical trials studying the efficacy of convalescent plasma for the treatment of COVID-19 patients have shown no clinical benefit so far, and the treatment has not been approved by the FDA. The agency only authorizes the use of convalescent plasma with high levels of antibodies to treat COVID-19 patients with immunosuppressive disease or receiving immunosuppressive treatments.

Yet, in its COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines, the National Institutes of Health says there is “insufficient evidence … to recommend either for or against” the use of convalescent plasma in COVID-19 patients with impaired immunity. 

As we reported in October 2021, the Red Cross stopped testing blood donations for COVID-19 antibodies in June 2021 because of a decline in demand for convalescent plasma from hospitals and sufficient existing supply. But according to its website, the organization resumed testing all donations made on or after March 7 for COVID-19 antibodies for a limited time due to an increase in the demand from hospitals triggered by COVID-19 surges.

“Plasma from routine donations with high levels of COVID-19 antibodies that also meet other U.S. Food and Drug Administration criteria may be used to treat immunocompromised patients battling COVID-19,” the website says. 

But in an April 19 tweet, Jennifer Sey, a former Levi’s executive who stepped down from the company to advocate against COVID-19 school closures, incorrectly claimed that only blood from those who hadn’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 was being tested for antibodies. Her tweet got almost 50,000 likes and was retweeted more than 13,000 times. 

“My husband gave blood today. They only test the unvaxxed for antibodies & if they have them, they use their blood as treatment for those at risk of adverse outcomes. Why can’t they use blood of vaxxed who also had Covid? Real question for MDs. What’s wrong with vaxxed blood?” Sey tweeted

As we said, the Red Cross resumed testing all donations for COVID-19 antibodies. But as a spokesperson for the organization told us, the Red Cross is only processing convalescent plasma from unvaccinated donors with a confirmed previous symptomatic COVID-19 infection. The reason is that the Red Cross would need to add screening questions per the FDA guidance on convalescent plasma from vaccinated individuals, and the organization is able to meet demand for the plasma with only unvaccinated donors.

The FDA guidance to blood establishments says convalescent plasma can be accepted from vaccinated people if it’s donated within six months of resolution of COVID-19 symptoms. The guidance is “to ensure that COVID-19 convalescent plasma collected from donors contains sufficient antibodies directly related to their immune responses to COVID-19 infection.”

“Currently, the Red Cross does not capture this information as part of our donor health screening and would need to add additional donor screening questions—requiring us to update our donor qualification systems. At this time, the Red Cross has determined it is more efficient and that we can meet current patient demand for convalescent plasma from only unvaccinated donors,” the Red Cross told us in an email.

Unfortunately, the Red Cross’ tweet in response to Sey didn’t fully explain this, saying only that it would need to institute “complex Red Cross system updates” to process convalescent plasma from vaccinated people. That prompted further confusion.

The Red Cross said it is evaluating the feasibility of implementing the necessary changes to meet the FDA guidance.

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.

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