By Bryan Spann, Fort Meade Public Affairs Office
Photo Courtesy of the Soundoff, taken before the pandemic.
Giving Blood during a Pandemic
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the mission of the Armed Services Blood Program has remained unchanged – providing safe blood products to military service members and their families. At Fort Meade, McGill Training Center hosts a monthly ASBP blood drive and like at other collection sites, donations have been down.
“Getting people comfortable donating during a pandemic (has been a challenge),” says Shawntel Trowell, a blood donor recruiter for the Armed Services Blood Bank Center-National Capital Region. “We have taken measures of social distancing [and] by appointment only [with] a few walk-ins, but not like we were before in order to maintain social distance and how many people can be in a room at a time.”
You'll find Trowell at every Fort Meade drive. “Since COVID, we have lost a lot of donors, a lot of sites. We would typically have civilians at the USDA (Dept. of Agriculture), civilians at the DOJ (Dept. of Justice) and other agencies,” she says, “we don't have them anymore because there is heavy tele-work, so we rely on military units and installations since they're still up and running.
For many service members who have served overseas, particularly in Europe, donating has been problematic. For many years a European tour of duty meant a ban on giving blood. Recent policy changes at the FDA means that many of those previously ineligible to give, can now do so. The only active deferrals left are if you spent three months or more, cumulatively in the United Kingdom between 1980-1996, and France or Ireland from 1980-2001, for five years or more.
Trowell and the ASBP shoulder on and despite the challenges, the need doesn't disappear. “The need for blood is still very real, even during a pandemic and because this like [any] medical procedure, we still have to take the precautions. We're still under the Defense Health Agency and they want to make sure that all military are safe while donating,” she says. “The need for COVID convalescent plasma or CCP is still there, therefore we're still collecting but only at Walter Reed and our Pentagon locations.”
At McGill Training Center corona virus vaccinations have been taking place since January, so for many potential donors, the question of timing comes up. According to health officials, 14 days is the minimum time between receiving a COVID vaccination and donating blood.
Because of the ASBP's increased reliance on military installations, anyone in the Fort Meade community wanting to donate doesn't have to wait long for the opportunity. To make an appointment, for the monthly drive, go to www.militarydonor.com and use the donor code, FTMEADE.