Even as the pandemic abates, some issues are still lingering, with some who need blood transfusions appealing to hospitals and Canada’s blood supplier with the request that they receive blood from unvaccinated donors.
The requests are based on unfounded beliefs about vaccine “tainted” blood that have percolated among skeptics and conspiracy theorists, but they highlight the ongoing tensions over vaccination, even as the world moves into year four of COVID.
The true number of inquiries for “unvaccinated” blood is difficult to pin down. Canadian Blood Services said it has received a limited number, but would not say how many, and when the National Post reached out to half a dozen hospitals and hospital networks, most did not respond to requests to comment.
Still, reports of people refusing blood from vaccinated donors appear to figure in to what some have called a “clean blood” movement, driven by misinformation and some alternative-medicine practitioners. “Pure blood” has become a bio description on dating apps, while Agence France-Presse reports that a Swiss naturopath is working to create supplies of “mRNA-free” blood, worldwide. Canada is among the countries where Zurich-based George Della Pietra is hoping to establish a presence.
The fears among those refusing “vaccinated” blood include that mRNA-based vaccines can genetically modify humans, that the unvaccinated can get “vaccinated” via a blood transfusion, that the pandemic itself is a political hoax and that people who have chosen to be vaccinated “are in some way inferior.”
Stories of people declining transfusions in other countries have sparked bioethical debates in Canada, with some suggesting the requests are, in part, an “unintended consequence” of vaccine mandates — a notion that others have sought to debunk.
Transfusion specialists and the Canadian Blood Services have stressed that there is no evidence that transfused blood collected from COVID-vaccinated donors poses any harms to recipients.
Any claim of somehow getting ‘second-hand vaccinated’ by blood seems very silly, and not especially evidence based
But the issue is a sensitive one: Doctors who have been involved in fielding demands for “unvaccinated blood” worry they’ll be targeted by anti-vaccine groups or accused of withholding life-saving therapy if they speak publicly.
In Canada, there’s no deferral period between the time someone is vaccinated with a “non-live” vaccine — which currently authorized COVID vaccines are — and when they can donate blood. The U.S. takes a similar stance. There are also no requirements to collect or note a donor’s vaccination status on the label of blood products, meaning it’s not possible to select blood that comes from an unvaccinated donor. What’s more, 83 per cent of Canadians have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. The country’s donor blood supply is almost entirely sourced from the vaccinated.
In response, some people have asked to choose their own unvaccinated donor, or to donate blood to a child.
However, so-called directed donations are inherently riskier for the recipient, with no clear benefit, according to the Canadian Blood Services. Blood from a first-degree relative can be associated with a potentially deadly immune reaction known as graft versus host disease. Relatives might also feel pressured to donate, some of whom “may have a confidential or private reason that prevents them from being eligible to donate blood,” the agency says on its website. If they answer screening questions untruthfully, they could end up donating blood that’s less safe than blood from the general pool.
What’s more, if there’s a complication, and the hospital knew the donation wasn’t scientifically justifiable, who’s liable? Direct donations are usually only granted if there’s a compelling medical reason. Offering one purely based on someone’s vaccine status would set a dangerous precedent, ethicists have said. Where do you draw the line? Would hospitals have to appease patients refusing blood from certain other donors, based on false beliefs or prejudice?