Canadian Blood Services is urging donors to keep their appointments because it predicts it will fall short of supplies of certain types of blood products next week.
The non-profit charitable organization says it has three days worth of O+ and O-, five days worth of A+, A- and B- and six days worth of B+ blood products, according to its national inventory.
Delphine Denis, spokesperson for Canadian Blood Services, said in an email on Saturday that the organization predicts it will fall short of its target for donations by 3,000 units next week based on the current number of appointments that have been booked. That means a drop of 17 per cent in its national inventory.
"We urge new and returning blood, platelet, and plasma donors to book and keep appointments," she said.
"It is important to remember that the need for blood, plasma and platelets is constant. Cancer patients, accident/trauma victims, people undergoing surgery and people with blood disorders rely on blood, platelets and plasma transfusions every day."
Denis said there are 57,000 open appointments that must be filled before the end of August across Canada for the organization to be able to provide patients across Canada with the essential blood products they need on time. Donations have been dropping since July 1.
The call for donors to keep appointments comes after the the organization suspended its mandatory masks and physical distancing policy in its buildings, vehicles and donation events on July 25. The organization says masks are still available and welcome.
The lifting of the mask requirement, however, has prompted an outcry from donors online. Some donors say they are thinking about cancelling appointments.
Mark McCauley, a donor who lives in Stratford, Ont., said on Saturday that he cancelled his appointment on Thursday, not because of the change in policy, but because of the messaging from the Canadian Blood Services about that change.
McCauley said the organization is "doubling down, even tripling down" on the policy. He became a donor at the start of the pandemic and has donated five times in the past two years.
He said donors want to be in a setting that is safe. He said, as a compromise, the organization could make the last hour of the day "mask optional."
McCauley said the organization should reconsider the policy change, reverse it or at least modify it, and apologize to donors for making the change.
"If the bank is out of blood, that's a really big issue. It's a life or death issue," he said.
Denis, for her part, said the organization makes decisions after consulting medical experts, it has always met public health requirements and its approach has been "cautious and measured" since the start of the pandemic. She added that its donation centres are not medical settings.
"Canadian Blood Services is a unique organization. Although we provide life-saving products to hospitals, we are not a hospital or healthcare setting," she said.
"As a community setting, we are able to shift from mandatory to optional measures. In recent months we have seen restrictions being eased in many other community venues. This can happen because the majority of Canadians are vaccinated against COVID-19, and illness now caused by COVID-19 is far less severe in most cases."
Surgical masks and N95 masks are available to staff, volunteers, visitors and donors at its venues, she said.
Reserves could be replenished, organization says
Summer is always difficult when it comes to donations, she said, but this year is considered more challenging because it is the first summer since 2019 when there have been few to no public health restrictions on travel and activities.
As well, there have been fewer in-person community events to recruit new donors and encourage existing donors to give blood, Denis said, and donors could be dealing with sickness or in isolation due to COVID-19.
"The national blood inventory continues to meet patients' needs, but Canada needs 100,000 new donors this year to keep up with demand," she said.
Denis said it is possible for national reserves to be replenished if people go and donate blood in the coming weeks.
"We closely monitor the days of supply, and while three or four days on hand is challenging, we can turn this around with the help of new and returning donors. We urge donors from all blood groups to book right away, or over the next few weeks leading up to Labour Day weekend and into September," Denis said.
Same day and open appointment spots are available every day at donor centres and community events across the country, she added.
"Missed or cancelled appointments are difficult for us to fill. If you make an appointment, try to keep it. If you are unable to make it to your appointment, please cancel it so we can find someone else to take your place or consider re-booking in coming months."
Denis noted that the organization's policy on donations from men who have sex with men is changing on Sept. 30, 2022. Currently, men are eligible to give blood if it has been more than three months since their last sexual contact with a man. But on Sept. 30, that criteria specific to men who have sex with men will be lifted.