The claim: Red Cross says people vaccinated against COVID-19 cannot donate plasma

A lack of blood drives amid the coronavirus pandemic has caused a blood plasma shortage across the country, but some have taken to social media to claim those vaccinated against COVID-19 are not eligible to donate.

The claim follows similar posts that surfaced in the beginning of May, which falsely claimed the Japanese Red Cross Society stopped accepting blood donations from vaccinated individuals.

“The American Red Cross says you cannot donate Blood Plasma if you’ve had the vaccine, because the vaccine wipes out the body’s natural antibodies,” reads a May 22 Facebook post with about 3,000 shares.

Accompanying the text is a screengrab of a purported news broadcast with the title: “Red Cross needs blood donors but those vaccinated cannot donate plasma.”

Similar versions shared widely on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram contribute to debunked falsehoods surrounding the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.

None of the social media users returned USA TODAY’s requests for comment.

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Donated plasma – the main component of blood containing water, nutrients and proteins the body needs – is used for treating emergency burns and developing therapies for rare immune disorders. But vaccination status doesn’t impact anyone’s eligibility to donate plasma, and it also doesn’t harm the immune system, the American Red Cross and experts say.

Vaccines encourage antibodies

Vaccines in general don’t have the ability to override or do away with pre-existing antibodies, said Matthew Frieman, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“There is no precedence for a vaccine to ‘wipe out’ antibodies made from infection with a pathogen,” he told USA TODAY via email. “Vaccination can certainly boost antibodies that are present from the infection, and only for the protein in the vaccine… This isn’t wiping out any other antibodies that are present.”

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And the antibodies from a vaccinated person don’t stay forever in the recipient receiving their blood or plasma – at least one or two months, Frieman said. This short-term, passive immunity is the scientific reasoning behind giving COVID-19 patients plasma for recovery and to prevent severe illness, but how clinically helpful it actually has been is uncertain.

COVID-19 vaccinated people can donate plasma

Historically, blood and blood product donations have been subject to strict restrictions and deferral periods to guarantee no infectious, transmissible disease enters the national blood supply.

These restrictions apply to male donors who have had sex with other men, or MSM, female donors who have sex with an MSM, people with piercings and tattoos, and people who have traveled to malaria-endemic areas.

Restrictions also apply to several other diseases such as HIV/AIDS, anyone previously infected with the Ebola virus or anyone with active tuberculosis.

For those vaccinated, deferral periods can apply depending on the type of vaccine. Hepatitis B vaccine recipients have to wait 21 days after their shot before donating blood, and those vaccinated with the live shingles vaccine (which uses a weakened form of the varicella-zoster virus that causes the illness) have a deferral period of up to four weeks with the American Red Cross.

But for anyone vaccinated with any of the COVID-19 shots authorized in the U.S. – namely, Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson – there are no deferral periods constraining blood or plasma donation. If the vaccine was received overseas or the brand unknown, the wait time could then be two weeks, according to a joint statement released on April 16 by the American Association of Blood Banks, America’s Blood Centers and the American Red Cross.

Donors should be in a good state of health and symptom-free, said Katie Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, in an email to USA TODAY.

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And at the time of donation, the vaccinated will be asked which type of shot they received, and they are also encouraged to bring their vaccination card to the collection site, according to the April 16 statement.

The online posts confuse broad eligibility requirements with those for people who are giving convalescent plasma, which is collected from someone who has recovered from a disease; it is used to treat infections via the delivery of antibodies. COVID-19 vaccine recipients cannot currently donate convalescent plasma through the Red Cross.

While Feb. 11 FDA guidance states vaccinated people can donate convalescent plasma — if they had coronavirus symptoms, and received an FDA-approved positive test result for the virus — the Red Cross says the organization is still “evaluating the feasibility and timeline to implement this complex update.”

Our rating: False

The claim that COVID-19 vaccine recipients cannot donate plasma to the Red Cross is FALSE, based on our research. The Red Cross confirmed that it is accepting blood and plasma donations from people who have received a U.S.-authorized COVID-19 vaccine, and donors do not have to wait to give blood after receiving the vaccine. Taking a COVID-19 vaccine does not hinder a person’s other antibodies.

Our fact check sources:

NPR, May 21, Another Shortage Caused By The Pandemic: Blood Plasma

University of Rochester Medical Center, accessed May 25, What Is Plasma?

WebMD, Aug. 25, 2020, Plasma

Matthew Frieman, May 25, Email interview with USA TODAY

Infectious Diseases Society of America, April 30, Convalescent Plasma

Kaiser Health News, March 22, The Hype Has Faded, but Don’t Count Out Convalescent Plasma in Covid Battle

Katie Wilkes, May 23, Email interview with USA TODAY

American Society for Hematology Clinical News, Oct. 1, Rewriting the Rules of Blood Donation

USA TODAY, April 2, 2020, FDA eases restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men during coronavirus pandemic

American Red Cross, accessed May 25, Eligibility Criteria: Alphabetical

American Red Cross, April 16, Joint Statement: Blood Donation Concerns Rise as Country Enters New Phase of the Pandemic April 16, 2021

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Feb. 11, Investigational COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Guidance for Industry

American Red Cross, accessed May 22, COVID-19 Vaccine Blood Donation Guide for Donors

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Vaccinated people can donate plasma to the Red Cross



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