Many who’ve lived in Saudi Arabia, much of Western Europe can now donate

Eligibility change for blood donation, as well as for donating plasma and platelets, affects those who’ve lived in Western Europe (outside the UK, Ireland and France) and Saudi Arabia  

February 15, 2022
woman holding a first time donor sticker

Many people who have lived in Western Europe (outside the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and France) or Saudi Arabia are newly eligible to donate blood, plasma and platelets.

The change follows Health Canada’s recent approval of our request to update blood donation eligibility criteria related to variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD).

“Removing the deferral for people who have lived in most Western European nations and Saudi Arabia is supported by more than 25 years of worldwide epidemiological surveillance,” says Dr. Mindy Goldman, medical director of donation policy and studies at Canadian Blood Services.

“We estimate there will be approximately 1,000 fewer deferrals per year due to this change, and we are excited to welcome those previously deferred to look into their current eligibility.”

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Jen McKay has been working for years to improve donor experience at Canadian Blood Services but hadn’t been able to experience being a donor herself — until this week.

Before joining Canadian Blood Services 15 years ago, the manager of donor experience worked in Europe, including five years in Switzerland. Her time there had made her ineligible to donate blood.

“I was excited like a little kid. Finally, I got to donate!” says McKay. “Don’t get me wrong, I love contributing to Canada’s Lifeline as an employee, but I’ve always felt I was missing out by not being able to have that firsthand experience of being a blood donor. Especially since my blood type is O-negative, which is always in high demand.”

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McKay also has hemochromatosis, a condition where people have too much iron in their blood. Because of this condition, she needs to go to a hospital at least three times a year for phlebotomy, a procedure that removes some of her blood, and thereby excess iron.

For some who have hemochromatosis, blood donation is part of how they manage their condition.

“It’s been frustrating seeing my iron-rich blood go to medical waste,” she says. “I have a reduce-reuse-recycle mindset, and blood donation fits into that very well for me!”

Learn more about iron and blood donation

Woman crossing her arms with a first time donor sticker on

Jen McKay was able to make her first blood donation on Feb. 7, 2022.

Why are there geographic deferrals for vCJD?

First reported in the UK in 1996, vCJD is caused by eating beef infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also called mad cow disease. It is a debilitating condition that leads to progressive neurologic dysfunction, and it can occur decades after eating contaminated beef. There are no effective medications to cure it or slow its progression.

Unfortunately, vCJD can also be transmitted through blood transfusions. For that reason, like many other blood operators, Canadian Blood Services changed eligibility criteria for donating blood, plasma and platelets. People from areas that were at risk of vCJD, due to distribution of potentially contaminated beef, became ineligible to donate blood, plasma or platelets.

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How can I give financially to Canadian Blood Services?

There are many ways to make your financial gift.

You can make a one-time donation, become a monthly donor, give in honour of a loved one’s memory, leave a gift in your will, host a fundraising event to support Canada’s Lifeline, and more.

Visit to make a difference for patients with a financial gift today.                                                                                      

Most cases of vCJD occurred in the UK, but there have been 54 cases reported in other countries. They include France (28 cases) and the Republic of Ireland (4 cases). There have been only three cases in residents of Saudi Arabia, and 13 in residents of Western Europe. Since 2012, there have only been seven cases of vCJD reported worldwide.

The evidence strongly supports no longer deferring people who have lived in most Western European nations and Saudi Arabia. Blood operators in the United States, Australia and New Zealand no longer defer donors who have lived in these regions.

Am I eligible to donate blood if I’ve lived in France, the UK, or the Republic of Ireland?

Unfortunately, if you’ve spent a cumulative total of three months or more in the UK between 1980 and 1996, you are not eligible to donate blood, plasma or platelets. The same is true for anyone who has spent a cumulative total of five years or more in France and/or the Republic of Ireland between 1980 and 2001. We encourage you to look into other ways to give, such as organ and tissue donation, making a financial gift, and if you’re between the ages of 17 and 35, joining Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry.

If you have been ineligible to donate blood, plasma or platelets in the past due to living in any of the following countries, we encourage you to look into your current eligibility as you may now be able to donate: Saudi Arabia, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Luxembourg or Liechtenstein.

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