No blood banks in 63 districts of country, Rajya Sabha told

By Express News Service
India’s blood banks could face a crisis, with lakhs of people set to get vaccinated against COVID-19 from May 1. This is because the National Blood Transfusion Council (NBTC) has said blood banks shouldn’t receive from people within 28 days of them taking either dose of the vaccine. Most blood donors are in the 18-44 age group, which will be eligible to get vaccinated from May.

To avoid being caught off guard, doctors are urging the public to donate blood before receiving the vaccine.

The minimum interval between the two doses is four weeks, which means, if you want to receive the second dose at the earliest, you can’t donate blood for 56 days, explained Project Director of Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society (TANSACS) Deepak Jacob.

The Tamil Nadu State Blood Transfusion Council (SBTC) recently urged blood banks to encourage people to donate blood at the earliest, as “not being able to donate blood for the next two months, when everyone is getting vaccinated, will result in a shortage of blood”.

 A doctor in Sivaganga warned that if enough people don’t donate blood before getting vaccinated, the maternal mortality rate could rise. “But motivating people to donate first, without discouraging them from taking the vaccine, is a tightrope walk,” another doctor added. In Chennai, a senior doctor opined that the NBTC could reduce the deferral period to prevent a shortage of blood. 

Not all will be vaccinated immediately: Expert

“While Covaxin is an inactivated vaccine, produced using a killed virus, Covishield uses a weakened adenovirus. WHO guidelines recommend a deferral period of 14-28 days only in case of live attenuated vaccines, but the two vaccines in India are not live attenuated ones. The UK has a seven-day deferral period if a donor receives the AstraZeneca vaccine (Covishield) and develops symptoms post vaccination,” the senior doctor said.

The deferral period should be reduced to 14 days since blood donation doesn’t decrease the immune response, and transfusion from a vaccinated (live attenuated vaccine) donor very rarely carries the risk of an immuno-compromised recipient contracting coronavirus infection, the doctor added.

However, Jacob asserted that concerns about blood shortage are unwarranted since all donors won’t be vaccinated in the first week of May. “There may be a long queue for months. Also, due to reduction of elective surgeries and road accidents on account of lockdown, the demand for transfusion is expected to drop, like last year,” he said.

Meanwhile in Telangana, various youth organisations, blood banks and NGOs are encouraging youngsters to donate blood before getting vaccinated. “Summer is when the need for blood is the highest, and number of donors lowest. Soon after the Centre announced vaccination for youth, reached out to them on social media, asking them to donate blood before getting vaccinated. e plan to conduct special blood donation camps across the country,” said P Vijaya Kumar Babu, in-charge of resource mobilisation, Indian Red Cross Society – Telangana.

In Kerala, hospitals in all major cities are already suffering from a shortage of blood due to the inability to organise donation camps last year owing to the COVID-19 crisis. On Thursday, CM Pinarayi Vijayan urged youth to donate blood before getting vaccinated. Vinod Bhaskaran, founder of Blood Donors Kerala, said they launched a social media awareness drive.

Blood Donors Kerala and DYFI have planned blood donation camps across the State in the coming days. In Odisha too, hospitals are running out of certain blood groups, according to the government’s e-Blood Bank. “The situation is not very good at blood banks, and may worsen within 10-12 days,” said NGO Lifeline Charitable Trust president Dhirendra Thakur.

(Inputs from Madurai, Chennai, Coimbatore, Tiruppur, Salem, Dharmapuri, Tiruchy, Hyderabad, Kochi and Bhubaneswar)