Convalescent plasma is a promising treatment being developed for COVID-19.
But assuming it works – and that’s still a big question – more plasma is needed from people who have recovered, says Susan N. Rossmann, MD, chief medical officer of the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in Houston.
“For treating physicians, it’s still an investigational therapy [authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration], so it’s being used in a lot of different time points in a lot of different ways,” she said. “But the other thing is that we desperately need donors who can give us convalescent plasma – donors who’ve had COVID and recovered – and I think physicians can be helpful in pointing people to us suggesting that they donate.”
Indeed, National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidance says “there are insufficient clinical data to recommend either for or against the use of convalescent plasma or hyperimmune immunoglobulin for the treatment of COVID-19.”
But plasma transfusions from survivors have been used to help patients fight numerous diseases, including Spanish flu, SARS, Ebola, and H1N1. It’s still unclear if COVID-19 grants anyone lasting immunity or if this treatment will work for those who are sick with the disease, says Jayesh Shah, MD, a Texas Medical Association board member and president of South Texas Wound Associates in San Antonio.
Physicians looking to use convalescent plasma for patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are critically ill can obtain a waiver to treat them using convalescent plasma, Dr. Shah says.
While the treatment remains scientifically unproven for COVID-19, there is anecdotal evidence that it may work, he says. For instance, he knows of seven physicians nationwide who have contracted the illness. Two of them did not receive convalescent plasma and died, he said.
“But the ones who did get it, they’re still critically ill but they’re surviving,” Dr. Shah said. “It’s not an evidence-based treatment, but there is a scientific rationale to use it.”
Relatively few people who are confirmed to be recovered from COVID-19 have donated plasma, says Dr. Rossmann, who is chair of the TMA Subcommittee on Transfusion and Transplantation. As of April 30, 3,809 infusions of convalescent plasma have taken place at 2,004 sites around the U.S., according to the Mayo Clinic, which is coordinating the effort.
“We know there are people out there who would love to help, so we just want to get the word out that [plasma donation] is a possibility,” Dr. Rossmann said.
The Texas Medical Association COVID-19 Task Force has updated its frequently asked questions (FAQ) on COVID-19 treatment based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Texas Department of State Health Services, and other public health organizations.
Find the latest news, resources, and government guidance on the coronavirus outbreak by visiting TMA’s COVID-19 Resource Center regularly.