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March 2018

Millennials: the missing generation of blood donors

Millennials account for only about 20 percent of blood donations, although a much larger segment (47 percent) of younger adults (ages 18-34) believe they are more likely to give blood than older people, according to a new national study.

In reality, statistics from a consortium of organizations engaged in transfusion medicine and cellular therapies show that nearly 60 percent of all blood donations come from people ages 40 and older, and people 50-plus make up a disproportionate share of regular donors.

The online survey, conducted in January, also revealed that only about half of U.S. adults (53 percent) know that around one of every three adults will need a blood transfusion some time in their lifetime.

In response to misperceptions and growing concern around the older demographic of regular donors ageing out, Seattle-based Bloodworks Northwest (formerly Puget Sound Blood Center) is trying new ways to engage millennials so they can start replacing older donors.

James P. AuBuchon, MD, president and CEO of Bloodworks Northwest suggests chronic blood shortages are looming. "This is emerging as nothing short of a public health issue," he stated in comments about the recent Harris Poll. He believes millennials' low rate of blood donations is partly because this cohort "didn't grow up understanding that giving blood can be a lifelong habit and a meaningful way to regularly give back to the community."

Millennials care about helping others, AuBuchon said, noting Northwest millennials show up in force when tragedies and emergencies occur such as the Amtrak train derailment near Olympia and the Las Vegas shootings.

Bloodworks is now "going to where the millennials are" in hopes of raising awareness and recruiting more millennial donors. Recent activities include having booths at Seattle Tattoo Expo, conducting drives at Seattle's Haunted House at the Georgetown Morgue, and partnering with craft breweries and ice cream makers on "pint-for-a-pint" events.

The Harris Poll found high awareness of the need to support community blood supply through donation. A large majority (72 percent) acknowledge that most people who are eligible to give blood may not actually donate.  Only about half of U.S. adults (53 percent) are aware that one-third of all adults will need a blood transfusion at some time during their lifetime.

The survey also revealed that 58 percent of adults said they have given blood at some time, but fewer than three in ten (28 percent) donated during the past five years. Access to a blood drive and a desire to help others were their top reasons for donating.

Non-donors cited medical or health barriers to eligibility (31 percent) and discomfort with needles (30 percent) as primarily reasons for their decision.

BloodworksNW is a local, nonprofit, independent volunteer-supported and community-based organization backed by 250,000 donors. It serves patients in more than 90 hospitals in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.