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Plasma donations from recovered COVID-19 patients could help others

The method is already being used around the world, including here in the Pacific Northwest, and early results are promising.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Could a blood therapy that's been around since the Spanish Flu be the answer to treating the novel coronavirus? Plasma from people who recovered from the virus could help those who are currently suffering. 

People who are diagnosed with coronavirus develop antibodies in their blood called covalescent plasma, and researchers are looking at whether this could help others fight off the virus.

"So those antibodies from the previous patient can then help the current patient that's sick, attack the virus and clear it from their body,” Dr. Larry Dumont with Vitalant said.

The century-old treatment has been used for many diseases such as measles, Ebola, and SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome). Here's how it works: antibodies are taken from patients who recovered from COVID-19.  Then, it gives a massive boost to the immune system of other coronavirus patients to help them kill the virus.

Dr. Dumont with Vitalant said the method is already being used around the world, including here in the Pacific Northwest, and early results are promising.

"The anecdotal reports so far is people seem to be getting better, the problem is these are not controlled trials, so it's very difficult to assign cause and effect,” Dr. Dumont said.

More than 800 acute care facilities across the country are participating in this trial approved by the The Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the number of COVID-19 patients who can join the study is limited because of the critical need for more plasma.

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The FDA has identified and approved convalescent plasma treatment as an “emergency investigational new drug.” It is currently the only antibody treatment available to COVID-19 patients. 

Dr. Dumont said he's seeing people post-coronavirus of all ages step up.

"I can tell you that the people that have donated in Denver over the last week, I talked to them and they're in their 30s and 40s,” he said.

There are many clinical trials, vaccines, drugs and testing happening right now, but these options could take months, or even years, to develop. Donating plasma could be the most promising.

RELATED: FDA eases blood donor restrictions for gay men, others amid coronavirus shortage

"We believe this may be an effective intervention to reduce the severity of the disease for folks that are unfortunate enough to pick it up,” he said.

Vitalant is seeking convalescent plasma donors to help patients. Eligibility criteria are:

  • Prior diagnosis of COVID-19, documented by a laboratory test
  • Complete resolution of symptoms for at least 14 days
  • Meet all other current FDA donor eligibility requirements to donate plasma

Even with these requirements, there may be additional tests or other criteria required. 

In some instances, those who have recovered from COVID-19 may be able to donate, even if they did not have an initial laboratory test. Those who meet that criteria and want to donate plasma are encouraged to apply through the Vitalant website

For more information, call 866-CV-PLSMA (866-287-5762).