Millennials: The stingy blood donors

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Photo credit: Jian Bautista

Donating blood used to be a more common practice. Now, younger people, specifically millennials, seem to have brushed donating off to the side. While the generations that have steadily donated are getting older, it could be time for millennials to pick up some of the slack.

Research done by the American Association of Blood Banks shows that the number of blood donors has dropped since 2013. According to this research, millennials in the 23-29 age-range make up a mere 10 percent of all blood donations. The majority of donations, about 60 percent, come from people over the age of 40. The drop in overall donors could be linked to older donors not being replaced by younger ones as they phase out of donating.

In the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas earlier this month, people lined up in droves outside of blood donation centers throughout the city. In some instances, there was a three-hour long wait to donate. With so many injured, the blood that had lined the shelves at the local hospitals was in need of replenishment.

Banding together and donating blood in order to help those most directly affected seems to be a recurring storyline in the U.S. following a national tragedy. In the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last June, there were similar reports of long lines and extended wait times, as was the case after 9/11.

While donating blood after a crisis like Las Vegas helps restock supplies, it can take up to 24 hours for donated blood to go through rigorous tests before it can be used in any transfusion. That’s why having consistent blood donations prior to events like Vegas are important for blood banks and hospitals.

Donated blood also has a shelf-life of about 42 days, and a lot of blood can be wasted if donations come in huge waves. After 9/11, some 200,000 units, roughly a pint per unit, had to be tossed out because of expiration. This made donating look unnecessary, which may have contributed to a 13 percent drop in donations between June of 2001 and 2002, according to the New York Blood Center.

Of the 323 million U.S. residents, only about 38 percent are eligible to donate, according to the American Red Cross. Of that 38 percent, only 10 percent actually donate each year.

An individual with Type O-negative blood is a universal donor. This makes O-negative very valuable at hospitals and blood banks, especially in trauma situations where there might not be time to ask questions about blood types. Those who have Type O-negative can only receive their specific blood type.

“It’s pretty simple,” Nate Rochon, a millennial donor and Anchorage resident with Type-O negative, said. “I have it and other people need it. I come from a family of [cytomegalovirus] negative donors which means the blood can go to newborns and immune deficient people.”

Other millennials are not so open to donating, with many not even knowing their blood type.

UAA art major, Levi Werner, simply said it freaks him out.

“I like to keep that inside me,” Werner said.

The Blood Bank of Alaska has an entire page dedicated to debunking some common fears and misconceptions about donating, but is the issue simply phobic, or is there something else at play?

The Miller-Keystone Blood Center based out of Pennsylvania started looking at ways to get more millennial traffic by increasing social media advertising and shortening the time commitment of donating blood by implementing an electronic system for registering, which could save up to fifteen minutes of time spent in a waiting room, two details that could catch the eye of a younger generation.

Trying to get younger people to donate more consistently is what most donation centers are striving for, and there can be self-serving reasons for getting them to do so, as well.

“I try to donate a minimum of three times a year because it is in such high demand and people really do need it to live,” Rochon added. “If you get in an accident of some kind, lose a lot of blood, contact a disease and you need other people who have made a blood donation, you want as many people to have donated as possible. I guess I could say I do it for the selfish reason of making sure there is some O negative blood in stock in case that ever happens to me.”

If you would like more information on donating blood, to see if you are eligible to donate or to schedule an appointment, you can visit the Blood Bank of Alaska’s website at www.bloodbankofalaska.org.