New Brunswick

Blood collection workers plead for vaccine after mobile clinic cancelled in Edmundston

Blood donation workers in New Brunswick say they think they should be part of the priority groups for receiving a vaccine against COVID-19.

Demand for blood products back to pre-pandemic levels, says Canadian Blood Services

A mobile blood clinic operates Monday at the Fredericton Inn. Workers for such clinics say they want to be prioritized for receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. (Submitted by Canadian Blood Services)

Some two dozen people who work to collect fresh blood from donors in New Brunswick can't understand why they're not eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.  

The group includes drivers, screeners, supervisors and phlebotomists, also known as donor care associates.

"These are the people who draw the blood. They have very close contact with the donors," said Tamara Elisseou, national representative for CUPE Local 5446.

"And they provide a critical service. Blood is essential."

In addition to staffing the two permanent walk-in clinics in Moncton and Saint John, the employees are also required to travel, which may also mean staying in hotels and eating in restaurants.

Last month, a mobile clinic that was scheduled to run two days in Edmundston before moving to Grand Falls for a day, had to be cancelled while the region was in lockdown.

Provincial decision

Canadian Blood Services says the workers are deemed essential, but it's up to each province to decide how to roll out vaccines.

That's why the rules are different across the country.

In P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador, all blood clinic team members are prioritized for vaccines but in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, they're not, said Peter MacDonald, director of donor relations for the Atlantic region.

Peter MacDonald, director of donor relations in the Atlantic region for Canadian Blood Services, said nurses are the only staff he has in New Brunswick who are prioritized for receiving the vaccine. (Submitted by Canadian Blood Services)

"New Brunswick has gone with allocation based on professional designation.

"So the only folks in our collection team that meet that criteria are the registered nurses."

That leaves the rest of the team to wait like everyone else and qualify by age.

Rebound in demand, and donations

MacDonald says demand for blood and blood supply have both rebounded since the early days of the pandemic.

In the earliest days, donations dropped off sharply as people cancelled appointments or failed to show up.

Around the same time, demand for blood products was down in Canadian hospitals.

"That lasted through the first wave, in March, April and May of last year," said MacDonald. "Then in June, we saw hospital demand restored to pre-pandemic levels."

Mobile and walk-in blood clinic staff say they'd like to be treated like other frontline healthcare workers and get prioritized for vaccines. (Submitted by Canadian Blood Services)

Some chalked that up to hospitals catching up on delayed elective surgeries but  MacDonald says demand is more likely a reflection of the number of accidents.

"One of the things that did have an impact was when we had wider lockdowns, we were seeing fewer visits to emergency rooms. There were fewer traumas and fewer cars on the road. That had an impact for sure."

Currently, he says blood inventory in the country is at a healthy level and clinics are operating with the most up-to-date protocols and screening.

"We've had a really generous response from donors," he said. "Our attendance has increased."

"Even during periods of time where there is a lockdown and every province has had its version of a lockdown, this is one of the few things that is an essential service that people could still leave their homes and do and make a difference in their community."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.

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