U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden became the first installation in Europe to see relaxed donor restrictions when the Armed Services Blood Program implemented sweeping changes to blood donor eligibility July 13 that allowed thousands more to donate to the Department of Defense’s own blood program.
“This will be the first time since the early 2000s that local national employees, as well as many military, retirees and veterans and family members who have lived in Europe for some time, will be eligible to help maintain the military’s blood supply with whole blood, platelets or plasma,” said Blood Donor Recruiter Stacy Sanning. “We are very excited, as these changes will help ensure we can continue meeting the military’s blood needs throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and in the future.”
These eligibility changes are in response to updates in the Food and Drug Administration’s guidance for variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or the human form of “mad cow” disease, human immunodeficiency virus and malaria.
In keeping with the FDA’s recommendations, the following changes were implemented July 13:
Travel restrictions lifted and reduced for mad cow disease and malaria:
Nearly all deferrals were removed for people who spent certain amounts of time in Europe and were previously considered to have a potential risk of transmitting vCJD, or mad cow disease.
• The only remaining travel deferrals are for individuals who lived three months or more in the United Kingdom from 1980-1996, or those who have spent a total of five years or more in France and Ireland from 1980-2001.
• There will no longer be any deferrals based on time spent in other European countries, including Germany, Italy, Belgium, Spain and more. This is what will allow many local nationals to give blood.
• Deferral time following travel to a malaria-risk area, which includes many locations where military deploy, will reduce from 12 months to three months.
HIV restrictions reduce for sexual relations and tattoos:
• Deferral time following transmission risks associated with HIV will reduce from 12 months to three months. Individuals who may be affected include men who have had sex with men, women who have had sex with men who had sex with another man, people who received a blood transfusion and people who received a tattoo overseas or in a U.S. state that does not regulate tattoo facilities.
“We are asking for all those who have been unable to donate blood with the ASBP due to the previous restrictions to please consider making an appointment at one of our upcoming blood drives,” Sanning said. “During this pandemic, it is more important than ever to give blood directly to our military and families, so it will be on the shelves when they need it.”
Find all ASBP blood drives throughout Europe at www.militarydonor.com and search by sponsor code: Europe or simply scan the QR code with a smartphone camera. Appointments are required to maintain physical distance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The ASBP is now testing all whole blood donations for COVID-19 antibodies, Sanning said. The updated blood donor eligibility will open the doors to more people who may have potentially lifesaving antibodies. This testing may provide critical insight into whether a person may have been exposed to COVID-19. An antibody test is not a diagnosis, it simply assesses whether a person’s immune system has responded to the virus, not whether the virus is currently present. The ASBP is working to help the Department of Defense collect at least 8,000 units of plasma that could help severely ill COVID-19 patients.
Donors who have these antibodies will be informed and will have the opportunity to donate plasma at the donor center in Landstuhl.
The next ASBP blood drive in Wiesbaden is Oct. 13. Sign up to secure a spot at www.militarydonor.com.
U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Public Affairs contributed to this report.