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Blood transfusions explained: why direct blood donation is not recommended

December 14 2022

Interview by Stella Huggins, adapted by David Liwei Shi 

Last week, health officials were given temporary custody of a baby who needed urgent open heart surgery after the parents insisted that 'the bulk' of donated blood required for a blood transfusion came from donors who had not received the Covid-19 vaccine.

The parents asked the High Court to consider 'directed blood donations' from unvaccinated donors of their choice. 

Haematologist and Transfusion Medicine Specialist, Dr Jim Faed told The Wire that not only is there no evidence of any risk associated with blood from donors who have been vaccinated against Covid-19, directed blood donations are also not recommended. 

Faed says that while the procedure is possible, it is rare in Aotearoa and regarded as being less safe from infection and other risks. 

He warns that people being screened before being accepted as a ‘directed donor’ may be tempted to give answers that will ensure they can give blood. 

"Failing to give the true, correct answer will create a risk for the person who may receive a transfusion from that potential 'directed donor'."

He says that separate storage is also required for direct donations so that they are not inadvertently given to other patients, and that many hospital’s Blood Banks have limited space.

"The refrigeration required is specialised and must run at specific temperatures; it is not a simple matter of popping down the road and buying another fridge."

According to Faed, if multiple people made direct donation requests in a region, the issue would rapidly become unmanageable for the local Hospital.

Complex surgery procedures such as heart surgery also often require specialised blood components such as plasma, platelets, and cryoprecipitate.

“Platelets have a high cost of collection, testing, and supply, and the current approved price for hospitals is greater than $800 for each item. The Blood Service is most unlikely to be willing to collect platelets from directed donors.”

Faed says that ultimately, the safety of blood is a focus for all Blood Services, which is why they have processes in place to achieve the required levels of safety.

Public interest journalism funded through NZ On Air