Historic change opens the door for more blood and plasma donors: human variant of ‘mad cow’ eligibility rule gone for good

NOVEMBER 23, 2023 (OTTAWA) – Canadian Blood Services is pleased to announce it has received Health Canada approval on a long-awaited eligibility change that could potentially welcome thousands of new blood and plasma donors.  

For more than two decades, people who lived or spent time in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland or France in the 1980s and 1990s, were ineligible to donate. This eligibility criteria was put into place in the late 1990s by blood operators around the world as a precautionary measure during the ‘mad cow’ outbreak. Now, with nearly 30 years of surveillance and research from Canada and internationally, this criteria is no longer required.    

“Our data tells us that since 2003 approximately 70,000 people in Canada tried to donate, but were not able to because of this criteria,” says Ron Vezina, vice president, public affairs. “Twenty years later, we hope those who are still able to do so, will come back to visit our donor centres after December 4, 2023. Now your time there, means you can make all the difference here.”  

Decades of research made this change possible 

When the ‘mad cow’ outbreak occurred, little was known about the human form, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), and the possibility of it being transmitted through blood. Three decades of surveillance and research has now demonstrated that removing criteria related to potential exposure to beef products and transfusions in specific countries will not lead to an increase in vCJD.  

"We continuously review available research, advances in blood testing and manufacturing and guidance from blood operators around the world to assess and update donor screening criteria and help ensure continual improvement in blood safety and availability," said Dr. Aditi Khandelwal, medical officer, Canadian Blood Services. “Learnings from nearly 30 years of vCJD surveillance and improved understanding of this illness as well as a comprehensive risk modelling exercise specific to Canada has found that the criteria can now be removed.” 

In February 2022, Canadian Blood Services removed this criteria to permit people who lived or spent time in Saudi Arabia, Germany, Italy, Netherlands (Holland), Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Liechtenstein to donate blood and plasma.  

Now with the approval to remove the criteria for the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and France, Canadian Blood Services is aligned with other blood operators that no longer have this rule in place, including the United States (2022), Australia (2022) and Israel (2023). 

Appointments available for newly eligible donors on or after December 4, 2023

People who are interested in donating are encouraged to visit our website or call 1-888-2DONATE (236-6283) to get more information or to book an appointment on or after December 4, 2023, if they were previously ineligible due to: 

  • Having spent a cumulative total of five years or more in France and/or Republic of Ireland between 1980 to 2001, or received a transfusion in these countries, or  
  • Having spent a cumulative total of three months or more in the United Kingdom between 1980 to 1996, or received a transfusion in the United Kingdom.    

“We know there are many people eager to start donating and we’re calling on you now to come in and donate,” says Vezina. “The need for blood and plasma never stops, so when you’re ready to do so, we look forward to welcoming you at one of our donor centres or mobile events any time after December 4, 2023.” 

Canadian Blood Services needs 100,000 new donors every year to keep Canada’s Lifeline strong. Donors are particularly needed during the winter holiday season. Between December 4, 2023 to January 7, 2024, there are thousands of appointments to fill across Canada.  

Don’t count yourself out. Canadian Blood Services regularly updates eligibility criteria for donating blood and plasma. You may be able to donate—even if you couldn’t before. More information on eligibility criteria can be found on our website.  

If you cannot donate, you can still help save lives in other ways. Visit blood.ca to learn how you can make all the difference for patients and their families. You can also ask friends, family and colleagues to donate blood or plasma and share the message on social media. 

About Canadian Blood Services   

Canadian Blood Services is a not-for-profit charitable organization. Regulated by Health Canada as a biologics manufacturer and primarily funded by the provincial and territorial ministries of health, Canadian Blood Services operates with a national scope, infrastructure and governance that make it unique within Canadian healthcare. In the domain of blood, plasma and stem cells, we provide services for patients on behalf of all provincial and territorial governments except Quebec. The national transplant registry for interprovincial organ sharing and related programs reaches into all provinces and territories. Together, we are Canada’s Lifeline.

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