'We need it more than toilet paper': Canadian Blood Services seeks donations amid COVID-19 pandemic

A spike in appointment cancellations with Canadian Blood Services has the organization reminding people that blood donation is an essential service, and if the drop continues, it could be faced with a shortage.

Blood donation agency concerned by recent spike in appointment cancellations related to COVID-19

Krystina Roman and her husband William Paskar, both digital product managers in Toronto, say they'll continue to donate blood through the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Krystina Roman)

Krystina Roman — an avid blood donor since 2015 — keeps a timer on her phone to remind her to give blood.

When it went off last week, she felt a bit of panic. After all, Canada and much of the world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But that's exactly why she says she needed to keep her appointment.

"I was thinking about the toilet paper rush and I was like, 'Wow what if we have a blood rush?'" she said.

"I have friends who have cancer now. We need it more than toilet paper."

But according to Canadian Blood Services, not everyone has been sharing that mindset. A spike in appointment cancellations has the organization reminding people that blood donation is an essential service, and if the drop continues, Canadians could be faced with a shortage.

Donations are still needed for patients undergoing surgery, cancer treatments and people involved in car accidents, the organization says.

Krystina Roman says she shares her experience donating blood with her network to encourage others to try it. (Submitted by Krystina Roman )

Roman was first inspired to donate blood because she had a friend who was diagnosed with Leukemia. But it's since become a priority in her life — despite initially being squeamish about needles.

She says she noticed a difference in the process this time around, starting with the blank slate of appointment options.

"I could get any appointment I wanted," she said. "It was really quiet."

She also noted that there were hand wipes and sanitizer readily available, with staff offering to assist in any way they could to make donating a comfortable experience.

"It took a little longer, I would say, because of the precautions. But it was so worth it."

It's still safe to donate: Canadian Blood Services

For people with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, or people who are in quarantine, it's not the time to give blood, says Dr. Isra Levy, the vice president of medical affairs and innovation at Canadian Blood Services. But he's urging healthy Canadians to consider it.

"We did see just late last week the beginnings of a drop off in people keeping their appointments," he said.

"We're reminding people that our collection centres for donating blood are places where the physical distancing that is recommended is possible."

Dr. Isra Levy, vice president of medical affairs and innovation at Canadian Blood Services, says donation numbers were strong prior to the outbreak but the concern is for the future. (Submitted by Isra Levy)

Levy says the organization has enhanced cleaning measures in place, and in the waiting areas the chairs won't be as close together as they have been in the past, but "you'll still see the juice, the friendly faces, and the cookies."

Levy says the organization has seen other parts of the world face shortages after social distancing measures are introduced or when an illness is active in a community, and his hope is that doesn't happen here.

"If we don't have ongoing collections, we run into shortages very, very quickly," he said, adding donations had been steady until recently.

"Our concern is for the future."

In the meantime, Roman says she's been urging her friends on social media to consider donating.

"This is an essential. This is Canada's lifeline. It connects us together and it's really needed."


Talia Ricci is a CBC reporter based in Toronto. She has travelled around the globe with her camera documenting people and places as well as volunteering. Talia enjoys covering offbeat human interest stories and exposing social justice issues. When she's not reporting, you can find her reading or strolling the city with a film camera.