Can plasma transfusions be a game-changer for COVID-19 patients?

  • It’s unclear if plasma transfusions can be effective in fighting COVID-19
  • It’s still in an experimental stage
  • More than 20,000 survivors have volunteered to donate plasma

Plasma therapy, in theory, provides recipients with a basis for their immune system to gain immunity from the coronavirus by creating antibodies. However, there are few trials and fewer cases of success, leaving the viability of plasma transfusions up in the air.

Transfusions of plasma are similar to blood transfusions, in that the donor and recipient need to have compatible blood types. Outside of this, there are no rules, because doctors still aren’t sure how effective the treatment is. Without large trials and replication, anecdotal evidence, such as a Houston hospital attempting the treatment in March 2020, isn’t enough to take the treatment out of the experimental stage. 

Currently, plasma transfusions as a treatment for coronavirus are being tested in New York, for moderate cases of coronavirus. Much of the plasma for these tests is coming from the Survivor Corps, an organization of volunteers who have recovered from COVID-19. More than 20,000 people have volunteered to donate plasma at Mt. Sinai hospital in New York City.

Other methods of treating the vaccine are being worked on by pharmaceutical companies. According to Quartz, many of these drugs may work similarly to the antibodies prized in plasma transfusions.

If I had coronavirus and recovered, how do I donate plasma?

The American Red Cross is presently seeking those who have recovered from COVID-19 and have remained asymptomatic for at least 14 days to donate convalescent plasma, the plasma which contains antibodies. Plasma donors, just like blood donors, should be over the age of 17 and weigh more than 110 pounds. Generally good health, even if you are being treated for a chronic condition that would not ordinarily hinder you from donating blood, is also required. 

Sources: Houston Chronicle, New York Times, Quartz, The American Red Cross, The Guardian, Science Translational Medicine, The Atlantic

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