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Blood donors step up as Vitalant adds COVID-19 antibody screening

Vitalant adds COVID-19 antibody screening

Jill Schramm/MDN Brenda Williams with Vitalant prepares regular donor Terry Zeltinger for his 103rd blood donation Monday.

Minot-area blood donors have been stepping up recently, enticed by the opportunity to help others in need and also to take advantage of additional blood screening.

This month, Vitalant, which provides blood donation services in Minot, began testing all donations for antibodies to SARS-COV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“It has been so busy,” said Kim Conlon, donor care supervisor in Minot with Vitalant. “We are getting fully booked, so we are highly encouraging appointments, because with walk-ins, we can’t guarantee we will get you in.”

Conlon said Vitalant in Minot saw a big jump in donors after the new coronavirus appeared in the area. The center anticipated that people might be hesitant to come out but that hasn’t been the case.

Conlon said Vitalant actually had to manage donations to avoid getting ahead of demand. When hospitals cut elective surgeries to focus resources on COVID-19, the need for blood declined as well. Vitalant is seeing that demand ramp up quickly as hospitals resume services.

Jill Schramm/MDN Douglas Ballieu, who works in donor care at Vitalant in Minot, works with donations being separated into blood components Monday.

“We went from having a very adequate supply to very low again,” Conlon said. “The number of people coming through our doors is very, very good to see. It’s bringing our numbers back to an adequate supply.”

Vitalant is taking appointments at its Minot blood center, which is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. Anyone interested in scheduling a blood drive also can call the center at 852-2161.

According to Vitalant, the COVID-19 antibody tests are part of a full panel of tests performed on successful blood donations. Donors are not charged for the tests and costs are subsidized, in part, by The Blood Center Foundation of the Inland Northwest and The Bonfils Blood Center Donor Advised Fund. Vitalant uses an antibody test authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Information from Vitalant states that antibodies are part of the body’s immune response and not the virus itself, so antibody testing cannot be used to diagnose current coronavirus infection. Antibody tests are used to tell if someone had a past infection.

While information isn’t available at this time to say whether a positive antibody test indicates immunity to COVID-19, it does mean a person may be eligible to donate convalescent plasma and help people who are still recovering from coronavirus infection, according to Vitalant. Donors shown to have antibodies might be asked during future donations whether they wish to donate convalescent plasma.

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