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Although no drugs have been proven safe and effective for treating COVID-19, convalescent plasma is one of the most promising treatment options being studied.
But there’s a catch: Blood banks don’t have enough plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to treat current patients, says Susan Rossmann, MD, chief medical officer at the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in Houston and chair of the Texas Medical Association’s Subcommittee on Transfusion and Transplantation.
“Nationally, there’s definitely a shortage,” she said. “And it varies locally from time to time.”
Physicians are in a unique position to identify patients who’ve had COVID-19 and to encourage them to donate, Dr. Rossmann says. Plasma from patients who’ve had more serious symptoms appear to be the best donors because their plasma seems to have the most antibodies.
“Which is why we’re interested in talking to people at the TMA because they have actual patients who’ve had COVID rather than, for example, the people in the community who have minimal symptoms or were completely asymptomatic,” she said.
Physicians should encourage recovered COVID-19 patients to donate at their local blood bank, which they can look up through the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) or America’s Blood Centers and Blood Centers of America. Donors who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 must be symptom-free for 14 days, and they must meet the regular eligibility requirements of their local blood bank.
Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved convalescent plasma for treatment of COVID-19, it has authorized its use under an investigational drug application. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., is coordinating the effort to evaluate the treatment’s safety and effectiveness, and most hospitals have registered with the FDA to use it with patients.
More than 48,000 COVID-19 patients have been treated so far using convalescent plasma, according to a July 30 report from the Trump administration, which has worked with blood centers to encourage donations nationally.
“All the community involvement is very important [to get] the word out because we definitely need more convalescent plasma,” Dr. Rossmann said.
Donors can make one plasma donation a week, and each donation can yield two to four units of plasma, she says. Each recipient receives about one to two units of plasma in a typical treatment.
Convalescent plasma carries few risks of side-effects and has a long history of effectiveness against other diseases, including Spanish flu, rabies, hepatitis B, polio, measles, and Ebola, according to the American Society of Hematology (ASH).
Several published and unpublished studies have shown that convalescent plasma holds promise as a treatment for COVID-19 patients, but its role in helping those patients remains unclear because they received other treatments at the same time, including antivirals and corticosteroids, ASH says.
Medical researchers still have “insufficient data” to recommend either for or against the use of convalescent plasma for the treatment of COVID-19, according to the National Institutes of Health treatment guidelines.
If you need more tips and resources to deliver that message to patients, TMA has created a webpage on donating plasma. The webpage includes links to donation sites and social media assets you can share to your own social media pages.
You can also find the latest news, resources, and government guidance on the coronavirus outbreak by visiting TMA’s COVID-19 Resource Center regularly.