While a cure and vaccine for COVID-19 remains elusive, nonprofit blood donation center Vitalant is asking those who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate their convalescent plasma.
“Unfortunately, the medications that are available to treat this infection are not specifically designed to treat this infection. Just based on the anecdotal reports that I’ve been hearing, the response (to the medications) has not been great. So at this point right now it looks like convalescent plasma may be the best option,” Vitalant Medical Director Dr. Marissa Li said.
Dr. Li explained that people who have recovered from COVID-19 may have immune-boosting antibodies in their plasma called convalescent plasma. She said these antibodies can treat other COVID-19 patients.
“You can just think of it as someone who has recovered from the infection, their body was able to mount a strong enough defense, they built enough tanks or anti-aircraft missiles. Whatever kind of weapon that their body built, that weapon is still floating around in their body. We can go there and extract that weapon and now put it in someone else’s body to help fight off infection,” Dr. Li said.
She said that there is some debate on how effective convalescent plasma is at treating COVID-19, because there have only been two small case series published in China.
One case had five patients, and the other had 10 patients.
All 15 patients survived the infection, and doctors extubated over half of them. They did not have to depend on a breathing machine or ventilator. About 90% of the patients showed no evidence of the virus in their body after they received the convalescent plasma.
Dr. Li said a convalescent plasma donor can come back every seven days to donate.
The Food and Drug Administration recently allowed convalescent plasma transfusions as an investigational treatment. It is currently the only antibody treatment available for COVID-19 patients. Vitalant began collecting COVID-19 convalescent plasma last Wednesday.
Convalescent plasma recipients must receive plasma compatible with their own blood type or “universal” plasma from type AB blood.
“One recovered COVID-19 patient may help to save up to five lives each time they donate,” she said.
Those who have recovered from COVID-19 and are interested in donating convalescent plasma can visit vitalant.org/COVIDFree and fill out an application.
“This information goes into a centralized database at our corporate office, which then stratifies the people who submitted their information into very high likelihood that this person can donate, moderate and low. We will actively reach out to these potential donors and get them on the pathway to coming into one of our donor centers to donate,” Dr. Li said.
Applicants must disclose the date they first experienced COVID-19 symptoms, if the diagnosis was confirmed through a laboratory test, when they last experienced symptoms and if they were tested a second time to confirm they are COVID-19 free and for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies.
Applicants must be symptom free for at least 14 days to donate plasma, according to the Vitalant criteria. They must also meet additional criteria from the FDA.
Dr. Li said Valiant did not have any convalescent plasma in its inventory “to speak of” as of last Thursday. Valiant relies on hospitals, county public health departments, and the public to help identify and evaluate potential donors.
She added that because Vitalant is a blood center; the organization does not have the capability to do its own testing, and it does not have access to the data on COVID-19 held by hospitals.
“They (hospitals) have information about test results on patients who have been discharged from the hospital with a COVID-19 diagnosis,” Dr. Li said.
Vitalant has four locations in the Tri-Counties region, including one in Santa Barbara at 4213 State St. and in Santa Maria at 1770 S. Broadway.
Mr. Li said all Vitalant locations are following COVID-19 related guidelines from the FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Vitalant requires donor-facing staff to wear personal protective equipment including masks and requires donors to wear a mask when they come in for their appointment.
“Recovered COVID-19 patients who have suffered social stigma and felt ostracized are now heralded as heroes in the fight against this pandemic,” Dr. Li said.