Recovered COVID-19 patients being asked to donate plasma

Posted at 10:59 PM, Apr 06, 2020

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez considers himself fortunate. Although he tested positive for coronavirus, his case was relatively mild.

Last week, he received good news that he is no longer positive for COVID-19.

Soon after testing negative for the virus, he donated plasma in hopes that it can be used by a critically ill coronavirus patient.

"Those of us who are fortunate enough like I was to experience mild symptoms or very low symptoms have to give back," Suarez said. "Now I realize since I'm on the other side of this and I was one of the early patients and probably one of the first people in Florida, one of the first in the nation to donate plasma."

Celtics player Marcus Smart, who was among a contingent of NBA players who tested positive, also promoted plasma donations among COVID-19 survivors.

Last month, 170 physician-scientists from 50 universities and hospitals across the nation launched the National Convalescent Plasma Project, studying the use of convalescent plasma in COVID-19 treatment and prevention.

“As of April 1, more than 1,100 plasma donors have registered, but we need more,” Michigan State University epidemiologist Nigel Paneth said. “We are developing a coordination plan with Red Cross and other agencies to collect and distribute plasma. We also are working directly with the FDA to obtain clearance to use convalescent plasma in trials, and in certain situations, outside of a trial framework."

The FDA said late week that it is possible that convalescent plasma contains antibodies to the coronavirus and might be effective against the infection. The FDA said that although the announcement is promising, convalescent plasma has not been shown to be effective in every disease studied.

The FDA is not approving using plasma as a treatment, instead using it as a clinical trial and for the treatment of those who are critically ill.

"Given the public health emergency that the expanding COVID-19 outbreak presents, while clinical trials are being conducted, FDA is facilitating access to COVID-19 convalescent plasma for use in patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections," the FDA said.

The plasma will be collected from recovered individuals only if they are eligible to donate blood.

“The use of antibody-rich convalescent plasma to treat or prevent serious infections has been part of medical practice for more than 100 years,” Paneth said. “It was a common treatment for bacterial infections before the discovery of antibiotics. More recently, other infectious diseases such as H1N1 influenza, SARS, and MERS have been treated with convalescent plasma with varying results.

“Small studies in China during the recent outbreak of COVID-19 suggest, but do not prove, that convalescent plasma improved outcomes. Until randomized trials are completed in the future, we will not know for sure that it works, in what circumstances and for whom, but we’re hopeful.”

Justin Boggs is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @jjboggs or on Facebook .