Health and Human Services launches a drive for your blood, but in a good way

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The pandemic has depressed blood and plasma donations to what the Health and Human Services Department is calling historic lows. So the department has launched a public campaign to get more people to donate. Here with the details,  the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke to deputy assistant secretary for infectious disease B. Kaye Hayes.

Interview transcript:

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Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

The pandemic has depressed blood and plasma donations to what the Health and Human Services Department is calling historic lows. So the department has launched a public campaign to get more people to donate. Here with the details,  the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke to deputy assistant secretary for infectious disease B. Kaye Hayes.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And just frame the problem for us because the federal government doesn’t directly collect blood, but what is going on? And how do you monitor it? And for what purpose?

B. Kaye Hayes: 
Sure. So what’s going on, we’ve had record shortages of blood. Because of COVID-19, we saw our record shortage,  because at the beginning of the pandemic we were instructed to be ,staying home isolating. But then, as we did that, we also we started to have these incredible blood shortages. And because of that we really needed to go back to ramping up blood donations, blood and plasma donations in our communities.

Tom Temin: It seems like perhaps people were fearful of the fact that could COVID be in the blood? I mean, there was you know, when HIV was extant in the land, you couldn’t give because HIV was in the blood. Is that true of the Coronavirus?

B. Kaye Hayes:  No, what was happening is that we started very early on with COVID in Washington State. And we start talking about safety protocols and large gatherings that really impacted our blood donation drives. For example, a huge segment of our population, our federal employees give blood at their their office blood drives. And so when you had social isolation and people working from home, we didn’t have those big large gatherings of blood drives. So that was a contributing factor. And we saw that throughout the country. So it had nothing to do with  COVID, but really about large gatherings of colleagues and employees and offices.

Tom Temin: But just to clarify the fear that someone could get COVID from a blood donation that is unfounded?

B. Kaye Hayes: That is unfounded.

Tom Temin: Okay, well, that’s good to know, We’ll settle that one right there.

B. Kaye Hayes: Absolutely.

Tom Temin: And how do you stay on top of or aware of the infrastructure of blood donation? Because aside from the Red Cross, which is national in scope, there are lots of regional and hospital chainrelated donation agencies, how do you keep track of what’s going on?

B. Kaye Hayes: Sure. I have an incredible team that leads on the blood side, and they work really in partnership with the Red Cross and finding out exactly what’s happening. We know from time to time where there are regional shortages, and what’s happening. So we’re able to keep on top of that. And those agencies and partners were very close together, because they all want to be able to provide blood and needed blood products, to their hospitals in sort of jurisdictions.

Tom Temin: And does the shortage, is it even across the nation? Or are there areas that are particularly in hard shape?

B. Kaye Hayes: No, it was across the nation. But I’m pleased to say that we’re turning the corner on that. We  look at sort of this color coding at one time, we were in the red on a daily basis, we were in the yellow on a daily basis. And right now we’re in the green, which means we have adequate daily supplies in reserve, so to speak. So we’re turning the corner. And that’s really because we’re ramping up all of our blood and plasma donation drives and the incredible work of our blood partners across the country.

Tom Temin: And what about military donations? Because I think does the armed services have donations from their members regularly within their own areas?

B. Kaye Hayes: Absolutely. They’re an incredible partner of ours, we work very closely with them. Early on Admiral Rachel Levine, who is our assistant secretary for health, worked really closely on messaging and making sure that our federal employees knew, we want you to go donate blood. We want to make sure that you can do that in your community. And we tried to get that message broadly across our federal colleagues.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with B. Kaye Hayes, she is the deputy assistant secretary for infectious disease at health and human services. And by the way, how does this fall under infectious disease of all the possible places in HHS?

B. Kaye Hayes: Well, our office has a really broad portfolio. So we work with blood and tissue safety and availability, blood and plasma and tissue safety and availability. We also work with HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, hepatitis. So we have a whole host vaccine and immunization. And so we really do have a broad portfolio and it works quite well together. Because so many of these issues are interconnected, they’re not siloed. So it’s good that we can all come together and work in that space.

Tom Temin: I guess every part of the body depends on blood flow. So when you look at that, from that standpoint, yeah, blood is everywhere. And do you have a sense of the blood consumption patterns? I mean, I tend to think of blood donations as post accident or trauma, but there are chronic needs, too. Correct?

B. Kaye Hayes: Absolutely, really good point. There are chronic needs and that’s why we talk about donating blood and plasma. They’re so critical. And they’re very different in that sense. You know, our blood donors can go in, typically it’s a half hour to an hour to donate blood. And it’s a different process for plasma, which can take a lot longer. And it’s a different process. And there’s so many people in our country that need blood plasma for illnesses and conditions that they have. And so it’s not just a serious accident or say, for example, an auto accident or some type of trauma. There are people that need plasma for them to survive  health conditions.

Tom Temin: Sure. And what is HHS specifically doing to increase donations? What can you do? Because it has to be leveraged through all of these local organizations?

B. Kaye Hayes: Sure, well, I want to talk about our campaign our office just launched. Office of infectious disease and HIV/AIDS policy, we launched, we’re out of the office of the assistant secretary for health. Excited because we launched a giving equals living campaign. And it is a blood and plasma donation campaign. And it is really to ramp up the communities and everyone going to donate. And what I’m so impressed about this campaign, we tell real stories. And that’s important to me, because it helps make the connection in people’s minds how it impacts them, or impacts their family members, or  in the community  where they live. For example, we have a person that’s highlighted in one of our videos, a gentleman named Earl, he’s from Scranton, Pennsylvania, and he was badly wounded by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, which has really led to massive blood loss and a need to have his leg amputated. So he survived, but he’s in need of several blood transfusions. So these are the kinds of examples and real stories that are told on our videos, because we want people to make that connection, how important it is for them to donate and how it impacts real people in their lives.

Tom Temin: And how are the videos distributed? What are the media by which people are seeing the messages?

B. Kaye Hayes: Well, you always can go to our website to see our videos and share that information. All of that is projected there. One thing, we work very closely with our partners. And it’s important for us to also share those materials with our partners. So they have our materials and can share those in their communities. And that’s important, because when we talk about partners, we want them to take the information that we have, and then share it in their communities, because that’s where it makes the most sense. So we’ve distributed those things through our website, and through our partners.

Tom Temin: And what about social media, which seems to be the main way messages get out these days? So do you have public service types of presentations on on the social media platforms?

B. Kaye Hayes: We do. And Admiral Rachel Levine is awesome with the social media. We tweet out messages from her. And she’s a person that everyone listens to. So that’s the right person we have out there delivering those messages for us, when we talked about the shortages, she’s really can do, let’s get it done. And so brought all of the thought leaders together and said, Hey, we need to inform and update our federal partners across the government. She made that call. Sort of call to action. And it’s amazing how you start to see those things change in turn.

Tom Temin: I guess you could call her an influencer?

B. Kaye Hayes: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Tom Temin: And do you have a way of tracking impressions to know that eyeballs are actually getting these videos and the messages?

B. Kaye Hayes: Yes, we do. And that’s where I rely on the smarts of my health communications team, because they’re the ones that are tracking and seeing how we’re doing. It tells us where we need to perhaps redirect what partners we look at,  partner engagement, this campaign, we work closely with partners, but at the end of the day, it’s not reaching the communities we need to reach then we need to tweak and pivot. So our health communications team are watching those metrics to make sure we’re on target.

Tom Temin: And just a final question, a few years ago, HHS, somewhere at NIH, I think it was, at a program to try to modernize dialysis and kidney treatment, because that’s a difficult, expensive process, big machinery that hasn’t really been updated substantially since the 1930s. By the same token, is there any possibility or any effort to update the procedures for blood donation, which seem to have not changed much in the 50 years I’ve been donating?

B. Kaye Hayes: A really good question. And I know we’ve had lots of discussions about sort of modernization of the work that we do. Those conversations continue with all of our federal partners. And that’s the one thing is because  our office, my office, we don’t do this work alone. We have to rely on our partners at NIH and FDA and CDC, that all have a stake in this. So those discussions are ongoing.

Tom Temin: Ultimately, though, it still takes a needle in the arm.

B. Kaye Hayes: Ultimately it does. And ultimately, we’ve got to get there so we can donate blood and plasma.

Tom Temin: B. Kaye Hayes is the deputy assistant secretary for infectious disease at health and human services.

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