In 2016, plasma centers in the United States fielded a record 38.3 million paid plasma donations, more than three times greater than a decade prior.In tandem, the number of plasma donation centers has more than doubled in the past decade; less than 300 sites in 2005 grew to over 600 centers as of 2016. Shaefer and Edin contend that paid plasma donation has become a common economic coping strategy for poor Americans, who over the past decade have experienced high rates of poverty, hardship, and rising extreme poverty. Because U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations permit American donors to sell plasma up to twice a week, these donations can add a few hundred dollars a month to household income, a lifeline for many poor families.
While the uptick in the number of Americans donating plasma to make ends meet has been documented in qualitative research and media reports over the past few years, no systematic, empirical research has examined the socioeconomic characteristics of donors or the communities surrounding plasmapheresis centers, despite the sharp increase in their number. This paper examines the associations between the location of commercial plasma donation centers and the socio-economic characteristics of the communities in which they are situated.
We geocode the location of FDA-approved commercial plasma donation centers and merge these data with census tract level demographic data from the American Community Survey (ACS) 2011-2016 5-year estimates. Using logistic regression, this allows for the comparison of neighborhood characteristics—such as racial and ethnic composition, educational attainment, unemployment rate, and poverty status—for census tracts with, and without plasma centers throughout the continental United States.
Our findings indicate that there are greater odds of finding plasma centers in census tracts with a greater proportion of people living below 200% of poverty, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic populations, and a larger population.
Conclusions and Implications:
Given the significant expansion of plasma sales over the past decade, it seems reasonable to conclude that less advantaged Americans have significant demand for the opportunity to sell their blood plasma. Given the size of the industry and the clear interrelationship between the growing number of plasma centers and poverty and vulnerability, policy makers should consider the ethical implications of the reliance of plasma donations as a form of a social safety net.