It seems the world has been holding its breath while awaiting a cure, vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19. And while a cure may never come, the United States has made strides toward both a treatment and a vaccine.
Local blood centers are collecting convalescent plasma from previously infected individuals who had COVID-19 to give to seriously ill patients with active COVID disease. The treatment is still controversial as information is preliminary, but there’s enough hope that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has allowed for the emergency use of convalescent plasma therapy for COVID-19 patients. Some of that hope comes from the successful use of convalescent plasma to treat other illnesses over decades.
“We believe this form of investigational treatment may give the body an extra boost to fight COVID-19 by using antibodies that are active against the disease,” says Larry J. Dumont, Ph.D., vice president of research and scientific programs at Vitalant Research Institute. “With our network of hospital partners and experience, we are helping patients fight a novel infectious disease.”
Daisy Marquina, 22, had COVID-19 this past spring and recovered. The first time she donated plasma, she was nervous. “I am not a fan of needles,” she admits. But her donation could save up to three lives. During a typical plasma donation procedure, two needles are inserted, one in each arm. Blood comes out of one arm, a machine filters it, and the rest of the blood goes back into the other arm.
“Individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 may have immune-boosting antibodies in their plasma,” says Drew Fowler, marketing and communications manager for Vitalant.
To be a donor, individuals must have a prior laboratory diagnosis of COVID-19, either by a positive nasal/oral swab test or a positive test for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, be a minimum of 28 days removed from symptoms, and meet all other donor eligibility requirements for an automated plasma donation.
Those who are able to donate should expect to spend about two hours at the blood center. One hour is for the plasma donation while the other hour is used for medical screening and a health history review. “We use a specialized process called apheresis that allows Vitalant to separate and collect only specific blood components—like plasma—while safely returning the remaining components to the donor,” Fowler says. After donation, most people feel ready to go after a 15-minute break in the company’s snack room.