Questions and answers: Blood and Plasma Donation
Is COVID-19 transmissible by blood or blood products?
Current evidence and risk modelling suggest that COVID-19 is not transmissible through blood and blood products. This includes plasma protein products, which are pharmaceutical therapies made from plasma — a component of blood. Nonetheless, Canadian Blood Services has strict measures in place to ensure the continued safety of our products and services related to blood, plasma, stem cells, and organs and tissues, and to address the health of our donors. In addition, manufacturers of plasma protein products routinely use added safety steps in their manufacturing process that inactivate or remove viruses.
Can I donate blood if I have been ill with COVID-19, or been exposed to it?
We are constantly reviewing our eligibility criteria based on the latest information about the virus and how it is spread. As a result, donors should expect frequent changes. The following people and their close contacts are not eligible to donate blood for 14 days after the infected person’s recovery:
- People who have tested positive for COVID-19;
- People who have developed a fever and cough after close contact with someone who has tested positive
- People who have developed a fever and cough within 14 days of travel outside Canada
- Those who develop a fever and cough after close contact with a symptomatic person who became ill within two weeks of travel outside Canada.
People exposed in the community or at work to those above may also be temporarily ineligible. For more information about eligibility, we ask donors to call 1 888 2 DONATE (1-888-236-6283).
We ask all travellers to self-isolate and refrain from any blood donation for at least 14 days after any travel outside of Canada as stated by public health authorities. That includes travellers returning from the continental U.S., Europe and Antarctica. The deferral period is a minimum of 21 days for travellers returning from other places. Please consult the travel section on our ABCs of eligibility page.
What enhanced measures are being taken to protect donors, employees and volunteers at our donor centres?
When a donor, employee or volunteer walks through our doors they can take comfort in knowing that we are taking proactive steps to limit the risk of infection.
In addition to being a fully vaccinated workplace, we have robust screening practices, and we have implemented a wellness screening checkpoint, mandatory mask policy, physical distancing measures and enhanced and frequent cleaning practices.
Our team is consistently monitoring and assessing whether additional measures are necessary to protect the health and safety of donors, employees and volunteers. Here is an overview of the measures we currently have in place:
- Surgical face masks provided by Canadian Blood Services are mandatory while within our donor centres and mobile donation event venues.
- If a donor indicates that they cannot wear a surgical mask, they have the option of:
- wearing a Canadian Blood Services-supplied surgical mask over their own mask.
- wearing a Canadian Blood Services-supplied cloth mask
- Unfortunately, anyone who refuses these options will not be allowed our centres.
Enhanced cleaning measures
- The frequency of cleaning has been increased for all equipment and surfaces
- Donor beds are wiped down after every use
- Laminated donor pamphlets are wiped down after every use. Pamphlets that are not laminated are single use.
- Plastic Ziploc® bags containing donor materials are single use.
- Digital touch screens used to sign in for donor appointments and the Q-osk donors use to fill out their questionnaire are cleaned after every use, along with the signature pad and digital pen that donors use to sign their consent.
- We continue to review our cleaning products and processes.
Physical distancing measures
- We are limiting the number of people allowed inside donor centres by welcoming people with appointments only.
- To manage the number of people in our donor centres, we have made adjustments to reduce the number of appointments each day.
- Donors in beds are two metres apart.
- Waiting room chairs are two metres apart.
- Where space does not allow for physical distancing, vinyl screens are placed between donor beds or seating areas.
- Staff and donors are being asked to keep a two metre distance from each other where possible.
- Donors will be asked to wait in their current position (waiting chair, screening station, or donation bed), until a space is open for them to move on to.
Additional wellness protocols
- Donors must complete a pre-screening questionnaire on the day of their appointment to determine if they are in good health and eligible to donate. Donors can preview these questions in advance here.
- Before entering our sites, donors must review and answer our wellness questionnaire available at the front of the building.
- Afterwards, donors will be greeted by an employee before entering our buildings to carefully evaluate whether they are feeling well enough to enter. Donors will be asked to defer, and employees/volunteers will be asked not to enter the building if they are symptomatic.
- Once inside the building, all donors, employees and volunteers will be instructed to sanitize their hands before proceeding further. Hand sanitizer and other hand washing means are available throughout the donor centre.
- We have removed tables from our refreshment area, to limit the number of surfaces a donor may come in contact with.
- We have suspended the use of water coolers, reusable glasses and mugs, and are shifting to providing only individually packaged beverages. We have removed opened and unwrapped snacks from our donor refreshment stations. Only pre-wrapped snacks are available, and they will be offered directly to donors.
- We have suspended the use of pre-donation salty snacks in our donor centres and mobile events to limit the risk of spread through touching the mouth with fingers directly prior to the donation process.
Are you testing for COVID-19?
No, we are not currently testing for COVID-19. There is no Health Canada or FDA approved test to screen blood for COVID-19. Current evidence and risk modelling suggest that COVID-19 is not transmissible through the transfusion of blood and blood products.
Are there any risks for donors or recipients?
Canadians rely on us to keep the blood system safe and we take this responsibility very seriously.
We have a strong record of responding quickly and effectively to public health issues, as demonstrated in the past with West Nile virus, Chagas, SARS, MERS, Zika and H1N1.
Current evidence and risk modelling suggest that COVID-19 is not transmissible through blood and blood products. This includes plasma protein products, which are pharmaceutical therapies made from plasma — a component of blood.
Nonetheless, Canadian Blood Services has strict measures in place to ensure the continued safety of our products and services related to blood, plasma, stem cells, and organs and tissues, and to address the health of our donors. As we would for flu symptoms or other illnesses, we ask donors to stay at home if they are not feeling well, since only healthy people are eligible to donate blood.
Should I stay home if I’m not feeling well?
As we would for flu symptoms or other illnesses, we ask our donors to stay at home if they are not feeling well, since only healthy people are eligible to donate blood. Potential donors are pre-screened for any signs of sickness when they book the appointment.
There are other ways you can help save lives during this time. You may be eligible to register to donate stem cells and organs and tissues. Financial gifts to Canadian Blood Services also help make a difference for patients by supporting donor recruitment efforts and strengthening our national programs and initiatives for life essentials.
We encourage everyone to keep practicing usual precautions against the spread of infections such as proper hand washing and proper cough and sneeze etiquette, and staying home when not feeling well.
What if I fall ill after donating?
As with any donation if you fall ill between 2 - 14 days after your donation, please contact us at 1-888 2-DONATE
Should I contact Canadian Blood Services if I am investigated by public health as either a case of COVID-19, or a contact of a case of COVID-19?
Yes, we ask Canadians to please contact Canadian Blood Services if they are a blood donor and are investigated by public health as either a case of COVID-19 or a contact of a case of COVID-19.
How are your employees being screened in donor centres?
We are following the advice from local public health authorities to ensure, to the best of our ability, that employees who work in our donor centres are well and comply with all safety measures when at work. We are taking a number of proactive steps to limit the risk of infection to our donors and staff.
- Employees are being asked to monitor themselves for symptoms and not report to work if they are feeling unwell or have come into contact with someone who is diagnosed with COVID-19.
- All Canadian Blood Services employees, without a legitimate medical or human rights exception are required to be fully vaccinated with a Health Canada approved COVID-19 vaccine.
- Like donors, employees are subject to wellness checkpoints upon entry into donor centres where instructions such as hand sanitizing and wearing a mask are mandatory.
- When it comes to travel, we are asking employees to do their part to keep our teams, donors and operations safe. Employees are asked to follow all federal and local public health guidance related to travel.
As the pandemic situation evolves these provisions are subject to change.
What about walk-ins? Can people without an appointment go to a donor centre and donate blood?
No. To enable physical distancing, at this time, we can only welcome people with appointments.
- Appointments help minimize the number of people in our donor centres at a given time.
- Appointments also allow prospective donors to complete a pre-screening questionnaire before they arrive at a donor centre, allowing them to self-defer if necessary in keeping with health and safety recommendations.
- We ask all eligible donors to book an appointment online at blood.ca, on the GiveBlood app, or by calling 1 888 2 DONATE (1-888-236-6283).
Why have some donor centres been closed, and some mobile collection events cancelled?
To enable physical distancing, we have evaluated our mobile and fixed donor sites to make sure they meet this requirement.
Some mobile and fixed donor centres are better able than others to accommodate physical distancing requirements.
To address the immediate needs for blood and platelet collections, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we shifted capacity in a manner that optimizes our collection network.
Many fixed donor centres will see expanded hours for donors, while we temporarily suspend collection at others.
We are notifying donors of donation events that have been suspended or moved to a different location.
Our goal is to ensure all donors continue to receive the best possible experience every time they donate. These changes do not impact how hospitals and other health care centres will receive blood and blood products. Canadian patients will continue to receive the blood products they need, where and when they need them.
I have travelled in the last 14 days. Can I still donate?
If you have travelled outside of Canada in the past 14 days you will not be eligible to donate even if you are not required to self-isolate. Please consider booking your appointment 14 days after you have returned.
I tested positive for COVID-19 but am asymptomatic. How long after the positive test do I have to wait to donate?
If you tested positive for COVID-19 but have had no symptoms, you can donate 14 days after your positive test if you meet all other eligibility criteria.
I was hospitalized with COVID-19. How long after recovery can I donate blood?
There is evidence that people who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 can be infectious for a longer period than those who are not. If you have been hospitalized with COVID-19 you will need to wait 21 days after your full recovery to donate blood.
In my province, COVID-19 restrictions are being eased. Did Canadian Blood services consider any provincial exemptions for areas which may not have active COVID-19 infections?
Not at this time. COVID-19 infections are still active in all the regions in which we operate. We will continue to evaluate practices, such as mask wearing, as the pandemic evolves in Canada.
Can I wear my own mask?
Surgical face masks provided by Canadian Blood Services are mandatory while within our donor centres and mobile donation event venues. Anyone entering our sites will be asked to switch to one of our Health Canada approved surgical masks.
If a donor indicates that they cannot wear a surgical mask, they have the option of:
- wearing a Canadian Blood Services-supplied surgical mask over their own mask.
- wearing a Canadian Blood Services-supplied cloth mask
Unfortunately, anyone who refuses these options will not be allowed our centres.
I heard you’re not offering refreshments after donations anymore. Is that true?
Effective May 11, 2020, we’ve made changes in our donor refreshment areas and to the post-donation rest process. To limit the risk of spreading the virus, we will ask you to sit for five minutes in the refreshment area with your mask on after your donation to rest and to allow collections staff to monitor your wellbeing. After this rest period, we encourage you to grab a snack and refreshment and take it with you when you leave the donor centre.
Can I wear a mask with valves (vented mask) to donate?
- No. Surgical face masks provided by Canadian Blood Services are mandatory while within our donor centres and mobile donation event venues.
- Vented masks with valves are not permitted in Canadian Blood Services facilities. This is decision is aligned with guidance from public health which has determined that masks with exhalation valves don’t protect others from COVID-19 and don’t limit the spread of COVID-19.
The use of vented masks increases the risk of an individual generating droplets which may spread outside of the mask and/or land on surfaces. Although enhanced cleaning practices are in place, it is difficult to disinfect an area after each use. As a result, this style of mask may put our teams, volunteers and other donors and operations at risk
Can I wear gaiter/buff-style mask to donate?
- No. Surgical face masks provided by Canadian Blood Services are mandatory while within our donor centres and mobile donation event venues.
- Gaiter/buff-style masks are not permitted in Canadian Blood Services sites. They have not been designed or certified as protection against viruses, so they are not suitable for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
- Gaiter/buff style masks are not considered as effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19. They are not designed to be masks and as they are loose fitting, they do not align with the WHO recommendation that a mask should fit snugly around your mouth and nose. As a result, this style of mask may put our teams, volunteers and other donors and operations at risk.
Have governments asked Canadian Blood Services to help with performing COVID-19 antibody testing on the general public?
Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec have formed a research partnership with the national COVID-19 Immunity Task Force to determine the prevalence of the COVID-19 antibody in Canadians’ blood serum.
This partnership was announced by the federal government on June 17, 2020 and is expected to operate over the next two years.
Phase one of the research project looked at over 37,000 donor samples collected between May 9 and June 18, 2020 to see how common COVID-19 was at that time among a relatively healthy subset of Canadians. Results of phase one can be found here.
Phase two of the project will use this data to estimate the seroprevalence of COVID-19 antibodies and see how antibody levels change over time.
Canadian Blood Services routinely tests donor blood samples for infectious disease and unexpected antibodies. Not all samples collected during donations over the coming months will be part of the seroprevalence study.
The study will ultimately give policy-makers an understanding of the actual COVID-19 infection rate for different groups and regions in Canada-- this includes previously uncollected data on those who may have only suffered a mild infection or were asymptomatic to COVID-19.
The data collected for the purposes of the study is subjected to Canadian Blood Services’ research ethics board protocols. The research is being conducted using anonymized data. At this time individual donors will not be notified on their test results.
The seroprevalence study should better inform public health policy decisions as the pandemic continues to unfold.
Will there be an impact on donors who receive the COVID-19 vaccine? Will there be a deferral period?
Donors who receive the COVID-19 vaccine do not require a deferral period.
Our Donor Selection Criteria Manual working group (DSCM) conducted a review of the four Health Canada authorized vaccines for COVID-19 (Pfizer-BioNTech Comirnaty®, Moderna Spikevax®, AstraZeneca Vaxzevria®, and Johnson & Johnson) as well as those under development and determined they will not impact donation eligibility.
Internationally, blood supplier regulators have chosen to apply varying lengths of temporary deferral from blood donation after receiving particular vaccines, including COVID-19 vaccines. Like Health Canada, other national regulators, such as the U.S. FDA, do not require a deferral from blood donation after receipt of a nonreplicating, inactivated, or mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine. Accordingly, the American Red Cross does not defer donors who indicate that they had received a non-live COVID-19 vaccine. The American Red Cross does have a deferral period of two weeks if donors cannot recall which vaccine they received.
You can find more information about donor eligibility at blood.ca/en/blood/am-i-eligible/changes-donation-criteria-blood-donation.
Will donating blood reduce the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine?
No — there is no suggestion or evidence in the research available that donating blood will reduce the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.
To understand this a little better, it is important to know why blood donation won’t impact the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine and how vaccines develop immunity in our bodies in the first place.
Even though our blood can provide lifesaving products and services to patients in need, donating does not remove the vaccine from the body. It also won’t deplete the body of important immune fighting cells and antibodies that are formed in response to the vaccine.
Vaccines help develop immunity by imitating an infection. This type of infection doesn’t cause major illness, but it does cause the immune system to produce special white blood cells and antibodies that will remember how to fight that disease in the future. These immune responses are stored throughout the body, in the blood and certain organs like the spleen.
A very small number of white blood cells might be in the blood that is taken during blood donation, but that amount would not be enough to affect the bodies “memory” or antibodies responsible for fighting the disease.
To put it in perspective, average adults have about five to six liters of blood in their bodies, and whole blood donation requires only about 500 ml. The human body is constantly producing more blood, including the white blood cells required for our immunity against all infections.
Is it safe to receive blood or blood products from a donor who has had the COVID-19 vaccine?
Our ultimate priority is the health of the patient. As part of our mandate to provide a safe, accessible blood supply to Canadians, medical and scientific professionals at Canadian Blood Services carefully review and assess each vaccine authorized for use in Canada. Health Canada has not recommended or imposed any restriction on the use of the four authorized COVID-19 vaccines and blood donation. All new vaccines are assessed by the medical professionals at Canadian Blood Services and Héma-Québec, in conjunction with recommendations by Health Canada, and informed by scientific evidence.
Health Canada has indicated that no blood donor deferral is required for any of the currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines. This is consistent with Canadian Blood Services’ donor eligibility criteria for other non-live vaccines, for which no donor deferral is required, and is in line with the practice of other blood operators.
Blood collected from donors who have received any of the current Health Canada-authorized COVID-19 vaccines has not been associated with any adverse transfusion reaction that has been attributable to vaccination of the donor.
COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted or reduced in my region. Do I still need to follow COVID-19 guidance and policies in Canadian Blood Services sites?
Yes, until further notice, anyone who enters a Canadian Blood Services site will have to continue adhering to established COVID-19 measures and policies. There is still significant uncertainty around the pandemic and the highly contagious variants and the organization is taking a cautious approach especially when it comes to lifting safety measures such as mandatory masks and physical distancing.
What if I’ve received both of my vaccinations?
Vaccination is so important as all COVID-19 vaccines are effective in preventing serious disease and hospitalizations. However, no vaccine is 100% effective and evidence is emerging that fully vaccinated individuals are still able to be infected and transmit COVID-19, even if they are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. This, along with case counts, will inform our own policies and guidance going forward. We will continue to evaluate practices, such as mask wearing, as the pandemic evolves.
What if I don’t want to wear a mask/switch to a CBS-mandated mask because masks are no longer mandatory in public spaces?
Although masks may no longer be mandatory in your municipality or province, our mandatory mask policy will remain in effect in Canadian Blood Services sites until further notice. We have made the decision to maintain current COVID-19 safety measures and policies given the uncertainty of the pandemic.
Anyone entering our sites will still be expected to wear a surgical mask provided by Canadian Blood Services. If you cannot wear a surgical mask, you have the option of wearing a Canadian Blood Services-supplied surgical mask over your own mask or wearing a Canadian Blood Services-supplied cloth mask. Unfortunately, anyone who refuses these options will not be allowed in our sites.
Why are you taking this approach while the rest of the country is opening up?
There is still significant uncertainty around the pandemic and the highly contagious variants, and the organization is taking a cautious approach especially when it comes to lifting safety measures such as mandatory masks and physical distancing. We have made the decision to maintain current measures and policies given the uncertainty of the pandemic.
When will you start lifting COVID-19 restrictions?
The COVID-19 landscape is constantly changing. We are continuously monitoring and considering how best to keep employees, donors and volunteers safe and ensure the security of our essential operations. Positive case numbers, and public health and government guidance for vaccinated (two doses) individuals will likely continue to evolve and will inform our own policies and guidance going forward. We will continue to evaluate practices as the pandemic evolves.
Is Canadian Blood Services involved in the collection of convalescent plasma for a potential treatment for COVID-19?
Canadian Blood Services was involved in an international study that looked at whether convalescent plasma could be used as a potential treatment for COVID-19. We contributed by collecting and supplying plasma from fully recovered COVID-19 patients in Canada. Results of the study can be found here.
Questions and answers: Plasma Protein and Related Products
What about medicines made from plasma? Is COVID-19 transmissible through Plasma Protein Products?
Current evidence and risk modelling suggest that COVID-19 is not transmissible through blood and blood products. This includes plasma protein products, which are pharmaceutical therapies made from plasma — a component of blood. In general, plasma protein products are extremely safe because of the added steps in the manufacturing process that inactivate or remove viruses.
What is Canadian Blood Services’ role when it comes to plasma protein products?
We are the national blood authority and blood system operator, which includes the collection of plasma for manufacturing into plasma protein products. In addition, Canadian Blood Services is responsible for the procurement and distribution of all plasma protein and related products to hospitals and clinics across Canada, on behalf of the provincial and territorial health systems (excluding Quebec).
We take this responsibility very seriously and we do everything we can to safeguard the activities that fall within our authority. This includes regular collaboration with health-care partners, patient groups and manufacturers to ensure clinicians have access to a safe and reliable national inventory of plasma protein and related products to care for their patients.
The ongoing situation with COVID-19 is unprecedented, and Canadian Blood Services is focused on doing our part to help keep patients, families and communities safe.
How are decisions related to plasma protein products and the impact of COVID-19 being made?
While the ongoing situation with COVID-19 is unprecedented, pandemic plans are in place and we are prepared to respond appropriately, as needed. Pandemic planning to safeguard the supply of blood and blood products is led by the National Emergency Blood Management Committee, which includes representation from provincial and territorial health systems, the National Advisory Committee on Blood and Blood Products and Canadian Blood Services.
To reduce my risk of exposure, can I send a designate to pick up my prescribed allotment of products from the hospital instead?
It is our understanding that individual health systems and/or hospitals have taken measures, where able, to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
We encourage patients to check with their local hospital or clinic staff to see whether procedures to assign a designate are in place or can be initiated to limit the potential risk of exposure during product pick up.
Can I pick up a larger allotment of the treatment I need to reduce the number of trips to the hospital I have to make to pick up my prescription?
Patients who self-administer plasma protein and related products at home pick up their products from hospitals and clinics as ordered by their doctor. The refill quantity is also determined by their doctor.
To balance the risk of potential exposure while maintaining the security of supply, as directed by the National Emergency Blood Management Committee, Canadian Blood Services will support hospitals and their patients by ensuring that the national inventory of plasma protein and related products will allow for a maximum refill quantity of three months of product for patients who are prescribed home infusion therapies.
Questions and answers: Stem Cells
Can I join the registry if I have had COVID-19?
Individuals who have had COVID-19, can still join the registry. However, if you are selected for additional testing or you are the best match for a patient, you will be asked to complete a comprehensive health screening and a COVID-19 questionnaire to determine if you meet the eligibility criteria to donate stem cells.
Has COVID-19 had any impact on Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry?
As with blood and blood products, Canadians rely on us to keep the national stem cell program (excluding Quebec) safe and we take this responsibility very seriously.
Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry is a member of the World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA) – an international network of registries and cord blood banks that share a global database where all potential donors and cord blood units are listed. As cases of COVID-19 continue to emerge across the world, WMDA launched a special COVID-19 webpage that is publicly available and updated regularly when new information is shared by member organizations, professional societies and courier companies.
Canadian Blood Services will continue to monitor the pandemic and provide updates as they are received. Our stem cell registry will continue to coordinate searches in Canada, as well as other international registries to help patients get the stem cells they need. Any critical information is being communicated to the corresponding transplant centre and/or registry to ensure that life-saving products are safely transported to patients in need. Our donors will continue to be screened for active infections and travel history.
Also, we have suspended all in-person buccal swabbing events across the country in line with guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada to minimize the amount of time individuals spend in large crowds or in crowded spaces in order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. It also is consistent with the public health measures being implemented by many of the provinces. However, we are encouraging the public to register online and get their swab kit delivered in the mail.
If you require assistance regarding activations currently in progress for any of the international registries in countries where COVID-19 cases have been recorded, please reach out to the transplant services coordinator team at email@example.com.
Has COVID-19 had any impact on Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank?
As the impact of COVID-19 unfolded, Canadian Blood Services’ Cord Blood Bank temporarily suspended cord blood collections at its four collection hospitals in Ottawa, Brampton, Edmonton and Vancouver. The suspension was guided by the recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the increasing hospital restrictions to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19.
However, aligned with the public health decision to ease COVID-19 restrictions in most parts of the country, and in consultation with clinicians as hospitals gradually return to normal operations, Canadian Blood Services has resumed cord blood collection at all four collection hospitals.
We recognize and understand there may be concerns about the health and safety of mothers because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To maximize donor safety throughout the cord blood collection process, our partner hospitals have put appropriate physical distancing measures in place and will be taking every precaution, including the use of personal protective equipment. We are committed to ensuring mothers have a safe and rewarding donor experience.
Is it safe to go to a collection centre for my physical examination and to donate stem cells during the COVID-19 pandemic?
As the organization responsible for the national stem cell registry and cord blood bank outside Quebec, we are determined to keep our promise to help every patient, match every need and serve every Canadian. To do that we require the ongoing generosity and commitment of donors. Patients depend on these lifesaving donations. At the same time, we want to ensure the safety of our donors, employees and volunteers.
Canadian Blood Services is working closely with collection centres as well as with provincial/territorial partners, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada, Héma-Quebec, international blood agencies and the World Health Organization to ensure the safety of everyone.
Our collection centres have appropriate physical distancing measures in place and will be taking every precaution, including the use of personal protective equipment. We are always committed to ensuring you have a safe, efficient and rewarding donor experience. All prospective donors are carefully screened for any symptoms of illness, including very mild ones.
What is Canadian Blood Services doing to ensure donor safety?
Donor health and safety is our top priority. We understand that these are worrying times for both donors and patients. Thus, we have put several steps in place to support donors and ensure their safety.
To minimize physical interactions with adult donors, all donors undergo screening for symptoms of illness over the phone with a case manager at Canadian Blood Services before going to the collection centre – the hospital where the donor will donate their stem cells. Also, collection centres in Canada will be taking every precaution to maximize donor safety throughout the process. This includes physical distancing, staggered appointment times to avoid crowding of waiting areas, appropriate personal protective equipment for the physical exam, blood draws, and apheresis (most centres are using surgical masks for all interactions with patients and donors).
The decision to conduct bone marrow will be assessed on a case by case basis, and will only be accommodated in exceptional situations. All peripheral blood stem cell collections will be done in a single session where possible, and without the insertion of central venous catheters – if possible. These measures should minimize exposures and maximize donor safety. Case managers will follow-up with donors only by telephone.
We are encouraging transplant centres to choose donors who live in proximity to collection centres. We are also keeping a list of available hotels for donors who would need accommodation.
For pregnant people donating their babies’ cord blood during the pandemic, we are taking every step to maximize donor safety throughout the cord blood collection process. Our partner hospitals have put appropriate physical distancing measures in place and will be taking every precaution, including the use of personal protective equipment. We are committed to ensuring pregnant individuals have a safe and rewarding donor experience.
In addition to these steps, we have provided FAQs for staff to provide donors with the answers they need. We are also publishing regular updates on blood.ca to provide donors with facts and reassurance.
The COVID-19 pandemic is changing quickly. As the situation evolves, we will continue to make sure that we keep our donors, patients and employees informed of any changes.
What if I change my mind about donating stem cells?
You are free to decline to donate at any point in the process. Your decision will be confidential.
However, it is important to be aware that there is a serious risk of death to the patient if you decide to withdraw after his or her radiation and/or chemotherapy treatment has begun. You will be told in advance exactly when the patient will start this treatment and given every opportunity to decline before that date.
Why did you suspend the swabbing event in XYZ?
In line with the Public Health Agency of Canada’s guidelines on mass gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, we suspended all stem cell in-person swabbing events across the country to minimize the amount of time individuals spend in large crowds or in crowded spaces in order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. It also is consistent with the public health measures being implemented by many of the provinces. We are encouraging the public to join the registry from the convenience of their home by registering online at blood.ca/stemcells to receive a swab kit delivered to their home by mail.
Your decision to join our registry is essential to protect our most vulnerable community members. At the same time, we care about the health of our registrants, patients, employees and volunteers. Only healthy people are eligible to donate stem cells.
Canadian Blood Services will continue to evaluate the latest evidence and work closely with provincial/territorial partners, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada, Héma-Quebec, international blood agencies and the World Health Organization to ensure the safety of everyone during the pandemic.
Does the COVID-19 pandemic call for increased recruitment of Canadian registrants?
Yes. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the logistics of stem cell transplants challenging due to international border closures, travel restrictions and the general health of donors. This means patients and transplant centres are now relying on more potential donors from Canada. We need more healthy Canadians, who are between 17 and 35 years old, to register online and get their swab kit delivered in the mail.
Financial gifts to Canadian Blood Services also help make a difference for patients by supporting donor recruitment efforts and strengthening our national stem cell program and initiatives.
What is the process to register online?
To register online for stem cell donation, visit blood.ca/stemcells. You will be asked to read through the stem cell registration information. Being an informed donor is a vital part of the process.
- Once you have read through all the key information about joining the stem cell registry, you may proceed to completing the registration questionnaire.
- If you’ve determined that you meet the eligibility requirements, you will need to create a personal online donor profile. If you already have a donor account, you will be asked to sign in and complete your registration and consent forms.
- Within 5 to 10 business days, you will receive a self-swabbing kit in the mail with instructions on how to perform a buccal (cheek) swab. This is to help determine your HLA type and fully complete your registration. Watch this video with instructions on how to complete and return your buccal swab to Canadian Blood Services.
- We may contact you by phone if we have further questions about your health (based on your responses from your registration information). Please note that your final eligibility rests with the registry team.
- You will be notified when this process is complete and that you are now officially on the registry.
Does it cost me anything to register online?
No. Registration is free, and you won't be charged for any part of the testing or donation process. We also reimburse the necessary expenses you incur during stem cell donation process. For example, if you must go to another city or province for the procedure, your travel and accommodation costs are covered for you and a companion. While the procedure and recovery will take you away from work for a short time, trends have shown that most employers are willing to give sick leave or paid leave to stem cell donors.
Where can I find more information?
More information on the novel coronavirus can be found at the links below:
- Suspension of group swabbing events in response to COVID-19 pandemic
- Suspension of cord blood collections in response to COVID-19 pandemic
- Public Health Agency of Canada
- World Health Organization
More information on Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Program:
Questions and answers: Organs and Tissues
Is COVID-19 affecting deceased organ donation and transplantation?
Canadian Blood Services continues to work closely with the OTDT community, our national advisory committees, the Canadian Society of Transplantation, and other stakeholders to monitor how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic affects organ donation and transplantation. Because the situation continues to evolve and is unique in each jurisdiction, please contact your donation or transplant program for more information.
Is it safe to have a transplant during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A transplant can save a life, but it also weakens the immune system, which makes someone more likely to get sick from viruses. All organ donors are being tested for COVID-19, but the virus spreads easily. That’s why transplant teams across Canada are determining how best to proceed for the health of their patients. Talk to your transplant team if you have more questions.
Can organs of deceased donors be transplanted if the donor contracted COVID-19 before their death?
All potential donors are evaluated on an individual medical, case-by-case basis.
Is the Kidney Paired Donation program still operating?
The Kidney Paired Donation program has resumed after a temporary pause in response to COVID-19. The team is working with the living donation and transplant programs across the country to safely match donor and patient pairs to help enable more kidney transplants in Canada.
Has the Highly Sensitized Patient program been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
The Highly Sensitized Patient (HSP) program continues to operate.
Individual programs determine if an offer from the registry can be accepted based on their hospital’s policies and processes for deceased donor organ transplantation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Has eye or tissue donation and transplant been impacted by the pandemic?
In response to COVID-19, hospitals cancelled elective surgeries, resulting in a reduced demand for tissues. Collection and transplant of tissues has since resumed. Local transplant programs will continue to determine how best to proceed for the health of their patients and have their own measures in place for emergencies. For more information, please contact your local transplant program.
I’m on a waitlist, will I still get a transplant?
During COVID-19, Canada’s transplant programs are reviewing cases individually and will determine whether it is safe to proceed with transplantation. After having a transplant your immune system is weak, making you more likely to get sick. Your transplant physician can advise on whether a transplant is appropriate for you during the pandemic.
Will patients lose their place on the waitlist if delays or cancellations continue?
No. Transplant programs continue to weigh the risks and benefits of who can safely be transplanted when an organ becomes available.
Now that elective surgeries have resumed, will my previously scheduled transplant be a priority in the surgery backlogs?
There are many factors that will affect how each hospital will prioritize procedures and clear backlogs. For the most accurate information, we recommend you contact your transplant program to discuss your own personal circumstances and potential timing for a transplant.
If I was approved to donate, will I be tested for COVID-19?
I was previously tested for COVID-19 and ready to donate/receive a transplant. Will I need to be tested again?
Transplant teams review individual cases and determine how best to proceed for the health of the patient and the donor. Potential organ donors are tested for COVID-19. If they test positive, they will not be able to donate. Your local transplant team will be able to tell you if any additional testing is necessary.
I’m a living donor. I am prepared to take the risk to save a life.
Organ donation and transplantation is an essential life-saving and life-preserving medical intervention. However, transplant recipients are, or are likely to become, immunocompromised and may be at an increased risk of more severe outcomes related to COVID-19.
Because the situation is rapidly evolving and unique in each jurisdiction, please contact your provincial organ and tissue program for details.
Are there any recent changes/developments that might impact transplant candidates that I should be aware of?
Transplant teams review individual cases and determine how best to proceed for the health of the patient. Talk with your transplant team if you have more questions.
Will I need to travel to donate/receive my transplant? If so, is it safe?
[Please note: local donation is outside of scope for Canadian Blood Services]
Living donation and transplant programs are following the important health recommendations of the Public Health Agency of Canada and their provincial Chief Medical Officers of Health. Because the situation continues to evolve and is unique in each jurisdiction, please contact your provincial organ and tissue program for details.
If I travel, will I need to quarantine?
Please talk with your local transplant program for more information about any requirements for your transplant as a result of COVID-19.
What steps can I take to ensure my safety? To protect myself?
Transplant recipients are immunocompromised and may be at increased risk of more severe outcomes related to COVID-19. For this reason, it is important to take precautions to prevent infection. We recommend patients contact their transplant program or their local public health office for advice. Public Health Agency of Canada also provides guidance on how high-risk people can stay safe: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/people-high-risk-for-severe-illness-covid-19.html
I heard that some hospitals are turning away organ and tissue transplant patients if they are not vaccinated. What is Canadian Blood Services’ response?
Canadian Blood Services continues to work closely with the OTDT community, our national advisory committees, the Canadian Society of Transplantation, and other stakeholders to monitor how the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic affects organ donation and transplantation.
Some hospitals have enacted a policy that requires patients to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with a Health Canada approved vaccine in order to receive an organ transplant. Organ transplant recipients face a weakened immune system after surgery which makes them vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 and an increased chance of death since their immune systems may not be strong enough to fight the virus. Being vaccinated is among other requirements patients need to meet in order to receive an organ transplant.
Though Canadian Blood Services is not responsible for decisions made by hospital programs, it fully supports that transplant programs make evidence-based decisions that are in the best interest of organ donors and transplant patients.
Because the situation continues to evolve and is unique in each jurisdiction, please contact your provincial or territorial organ and tissue program for details.
Where do I go for more information?
If you have questions or concerns about your health, please contact your transplant program. For general information related to COVID-19, please visit the Public Health Agency of Canada’s information page.
Questions and answers: Other ways to donate
Are there any other ways I can help patients during the COVID-19 pandemic?
There are many ways to donate and help patients. You can volunteer your time at a donor clinic or make a one-time or recurring financial donation. Financial gifts to Canadian Blood Services help make a difference for patients by giving our national donor recruitment efforts a boost in times of great need, to keep up with demand for blood, plasma, stem cells, and organs and tissues. Donating financially also helps fuel research and drive world-class innovation in blood transfusion and transplantation medicine. Learn more at give.blood.ca.
I was in the process of planning a fundraising event in support of Canadian Blood Services – should I cancel my event?
The Public Health Agency of Canada continues to recommend gatherings and events take place outdoors or virtually, wherever possible. When considering any in-person gathering or fundraising event, you are advised to check in with your local public health authority on the safety of your plans, based on current COVID-19 activity in your community.
Many community fundraisers for Canadian Blood Services have had great success hosting an online or virtual event in light of COVID-19. If you are a community event organizer and have questions or need guidance about your fundraising plans, — please reach out to our philanthropy department by phone (613-739-2339) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).