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Red Cross policy on vaccine mandate makes no sense

“Blood shortage hits emergency levels,” blared the Mail Tribune headline leading Wednesday’s local news page. The Red Cross needs to collect 10,000 additional blood products every week this month to meet hospital and patient needs, the story explained.

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You might think that makes the Red Cross an integral health care operation. But you would be wrong.

Dr. Ross Herron, chief medical officer for the organization’s 15-state region that includes Oregon and Washington, said the Red Cross is not subject to vaccine mandates for health care workers.

“The blood drive setting is not considered a health care setting,” Herron told Oregon Public Broadcasting, “because we’re not treating patients in those locations.”

No. They’re not “treating patients.” If you’re sick, you are told to come back when you’re feeling better. But here’s what they are doing:

Trained phlebotomists stick needles into the arms of donors to draw pints of blood. A registered nurse screens each donor, asking about their medical history to ensure their blood is safe. If a donor gets light-headed or faints after donating, they are treated — in that location — before being allowed to leave.

The blood they collect is carefully labeled with the donor’s blood type, packaged and sent out to hospitals for use in transfusions and other procedures to treat patients.

But don’t ask if those donor center workers in close proximity to you are vaccinated against COVID, because they might not be. Because Red Cross officials have determined that their donation sites are not “health care settings.”

No matter what you think of vaccine mandates, this makes no sense. If health care workers are required to be vaccinated by Oct. 16 or risk losing their jobs, that ought to include those workers who collect blood donations for hospitals.

The Red Cross is pleading with the public to make an appointment to donate blood to make up the shortfall and save lives, but is not requiring its employees to protect the lives of donors by getting vaccinated.

We would not blame would-be donors — especially older residents who are at greater risk from COVID-19 — from declining that request until the Red Cross complies with the governor’s mandate.