Plasma donated from recovered COVID-19 patients was given to thousands of current patients in Mayo’s expanded access program to test its potential as a treatment. (Photo: Courtesy of Mayo Clinic)
A North State blood bank is calling for people who recovered from the coronavirus to donate plasma to help patients in need.
Health officials are hopeful they can use convalescent plasma — the liquid part of the blood that contains antibodies, donated by patients who recovered from a disease — to help some COVID-19 patients fight the virus until a vaccine is found.
Vitalant blood bank in Redding put out a call on Wednesday for healthy people to make appointments to donate, according to an email issued by Shasta County Health and Human Services spokeswoman Kerri Schuette. Needed are blood, platelets and convalescent plasma.
Donations will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies in the hope of finding people eligible to give convalescent plasma, Vitalant blood bank senior manager Joe Ayer said. The plasma will be used to treat patients with severe cases of COVID-19.
Convalescent plasma may “give them an extra boost to fight their illness,” Schuette said.
“If someone has had COVID-19, and they are healthy — meaning they no longer have it,” they may be a good candidate, Ayer said.
Potential donors need to schedule a screening to verify their body has produced COVID-19 antibodies.
The World Health Organization says using plasma from the recovered to treat COVID-19 is still considered an “experimental” therapy and that the preliminary results showing it may work are still “inconclusive.” (Aug. 24)
‘We are cautiously optimistic’
Nationwide, Vitalant collected 24,000 donations of COVID-19 convalescent plasma, Ayer said. But demand for it is rapidly growing.
The FDA gave preliminary approval for emergency use of convalescent plasma on Sunday. “Based on scientific evidence available, the FDA concluded — this product may be effective in treating COVID-19,” the FDA’s announcement said.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” said Dr. Chris Gresens at Vitalant’s facility in Sacramento. The FDA found the treatment had a reasonable likelihood of success, and a very low risk.
Health officials may have good reason to hope convalescent plasma will help COVID-19 patients, Gresens said. It was tested — albeit minimally — during past epidemics: Most recently the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012.
SARS and MERS are caused by viruses similar to the virus that causes COVID-19, he said. Plasma collected at the time of those epidemics appeared helpful in treating some patients.
In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported success using the plasma to help ebola patients.
But studies were limited. “We got both contagions under control so quickly, there wasn’t sufficient time to do all of the scientific analyses needed to prove the (plasma’s) effectiveness,” Gresens said.
According to a report by the American Society of Hematology, primates infected with SARS couldn’t be re-infected weeks, or even months, after receiving the plasma.
Those findings don’t always translate into effective human treatments, Gresens said. “Human studies done to date have pointed towards a possible usefulness of this therapy. However, we’re waiting for trials that will confirm this.”
Blood, platelet supplies low
Blood and platelet donations are also needed, Ayer said. Medical staff are concerned supplies will drop in the fall.
The main reason for shrinking blood supplies is that school blood drives were canceled when students were sent home to study remotely, Ayer said. “Some months, 50% of our blood draw comes from schools. They draw a huge amount of blood for our area.”
The number of platelet donations, collected at the bank’s facility at 2680 Larkspur Lane, have also dropped, Ayer said.
Healthy people who have completely recovered from the coronavirus can make an appointment to donate plasma at https://www.vitalant.org/COVIDFree or call 866-287-5762.
Those who wish to make an appointment to give blood or platelets can call 877-258-4825.
Read the FDA’s Sunday announcement at https://bit.ly/2YGiaMu.
Jessica Skropanic is features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers lifestyle and entertainment stories, and weekly arts feature d.a.t.e. Follow her on Twitter @RS_JSkropanic and on Facebook. Join Jessica in the Get Out! Nor Cal recreation Facebook group. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today. Thank you.
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