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Convalescent Plasma for COVID-19: What Is It and How Can it Help?

Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Author name: Lee Health


FDA approves plasma treatment for COVID graphic

Note: Blog updated March 22

In August, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for convalescent plasma to treat patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

The medical procedure has been around since the first days of the Model T Ford to treat novel diseases, including the 1918 flu pandemic, hemorrhagic fever cases during the Korean War, and more recently, MERS, SARS, and Ebola.

Convalescent plasma therapy also treats virus outbreaks for which there’s no natural immunity, no vaccine and effective antiviral treatment is available.

So what does all of this mean in the fight against COVID-19? Douglas Brust, M.D., an infectious disease specialist with Lee Health, answers some of our questions about convalescent plasma therapy.

Q: What is convalescent plasma therapy?

Dr. Brust: Plasma is the yellow, liquid part of blood that contains antibodies, which are proteins the body makes to fight infections. Convalescent plasma comes from people who tested positive for COVID-19 but who have fully recovered from the disease. This plasma is given to people who are sick with COVID-19. Preliminary data indicate it may be safe and help people hospitalized with COVID-19 to recover.

Q: Why did the FDA grant an EUA for the administration of convalescent plasma therapy to treat COVID-19? What is an EUA, anyway?

Dr. Brust: The FDA issued an EUA for COVID-19 convalescent plasma for use in people hospitalized with COVID-19. Because COVID-19 convalescent plasma hasn't received full FDA approval, it must be used under the EUA.

During a public health emergency like the current pandemic, an EUA can be granted for unapproved medical products like COVID-19 convalescent plasma to treat or prevent serious or life-threatening diseases. But certain criteria have to be met: There must be no adequate, approved, and available alternatives available; and there is reason to believe the therapy may be safe and help sick patients. Currently, there is no known safe and effective treatment for COVID-19.

The FDA based its decision to issue an EUA for COVID-19 convalescent plasma on the historical evidence of its use in previous outbreaks of respiratory viruses, certain preclinical evidence, results from small clinical trials of convalescent plasma conducted during the current outbreak, and data obtained from the Mayo Clinic’s ongoing National Expanded Access Treatment Protocol (EAP). Lee Health participated in this clinical trial.

Based on the scientific evidence available, the FDA concluded that COVID-19 convalescent plasma may be effective in treating COVID-19.

Keep in mind, the EUA is not intended to replace ongoing clinical trials for COVID-19 convalescent plasma. Those are critically important for definitively demonstrating the safety and efficacy of investigational convalescent plasma.

Q: How many people hospitalized with COVID-19 at Lee Health have received COVID-19 convalescent plasma?

Dr. Brust: About 475 patients, so far. But the demand is surpassing our supply of COVID-19 plasma. We have an urgent need for donors who have fully recovered from COVID-19’s adverse effects or who were asymptomatic to donate their plasma to help others recover.

Q: I’m a COVID-19 survivor. How can I donate COVID-19 convalescent plasma?

Dr. Brust: People who have fully recovered from COVID-19 for at least two weeks are encouraged to consider donating blood that will be processed to obtain plasma based on the following:

  • You had a prior diagnosis of COVID-19 documented by a laboratory test and you are eligible to donate blood. You may have been sick or showed no symptoms from the virus. The key is that you have recovered and it’s been at least 14 days since you have had symptoms of the disease.

Q: I haven’t had COVID-19. What can I do to help?

Dr. Brust: You can consider donating blood! One blood donation can save up to three lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges to the U.S. blood supply. Donor centers have experienced a dramatic reduction in donations due to social distancing and the cancellation of blood drives.

Blood is needed every day to provide lifesaving treatments to a variety of our patients. You can help ensure that blood continues to be available contacting a Lee Health Blood Center.

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