Doctors Report Critical Need for Blood Plasma to Treat COVID-19

People who have recovered from the coronavirus are in highdemand. Or their plasma is, at least. That’s because their plasma contains antibodiesto the coronavirus as a result of exposure to COVID-19 – antibodies that may protectthem from getting the disease again and save the lives of others now battlingthe virus.

COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma (CCP) therapy is anexperimental treatment that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) hasauthorized for emergency use to treat COVID-19 patients, according to SamerFahmy, M.D., chief medical officer for BocaRaton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health South Florida. Baptist Health wasone of the first health institutions in the state to use CCP therapy to treatCOVID-19 and is partneringwith the Mayo Clinic on a study that Dr. Fahmy says should soon provideirrefutable evidence that CCP is an effective therapy.

Samer Fahmy, M.D., chief medical officer, Boca Raton Regional Hospital

CCP therapy can boost your immune system sothat you can better fight the virus, according to Dr. Fahmy. “Over thepast three or four months, we’ve used it totreat critically ill COVID-19 patients and the outcomes have been extremely promising,”Dr. Fahmy says. “It not only helps speed recovery and reduce the patient’s lengthof stay, it also reduces the severity of the disease and its complications.”

The problem, Dr. Fahmy says, is that demand for CCP isoutpacing supply. “We need more donors.”

When Baptist Health started using CCP therapy in April, itwas to treat the most critically ill patients with serious co-morbidities suchas heart disease, diabetes and obesity that placed them at a much higher risk.

“What we’ve learned since then is that we can’t wait forpatients to be admitted to intensive care,” says Dr. Fahmy. “For CCP to betruly effective, it needs to be administered early on – before thepatient needs a ventilator.” Once the lungs are injured from this virus, apparently,CCP’s efficacy is reduced. “At that point, CCP can’t reverse the disease but itcan help prevent its progression.”

Dr. Fahmy says the current statewide spike in the number ofCOVID-19 cases in Florida is alarming, and not just because of the sheernumbers. “Four months ago, the average age of patients we were seeing withCOVID-19 was much older than what we’re seeing now.”

The increase in hospitalizations – and the effort to treatCOVID-19 patients with CCP therapy as soon as they require oxygen support – hasled to a shortage of convalescent plasma in South Florida. Health officials arescrambling to build supply by encouraging people who have  recovered from COVID-19 to donate their plasma.

Donating plasma is easy, according to Susan Forbes, senior vice president of corporatecommunications and public relations for OneBlood, the blood center that serves hospitals throughout Floridaand operates blood donation centers across the state and much of thesoutheastern United States.

Susan Forbes, senior vice president of corporate communications and public relations, OneBlood

“OneBlood is collecting convalescent plasma seven days a week,”says Mrs. Forbes. “To be a potential donor, you need to have complete resolutionof symptoms for at least 14 days prior to donation and provide a documenteddiagnosis of COVID-19 by a laboratory or hospital, or provide a positiveCOVID-19 antibody test. You’ll need to provide this information and complete apre-registration form at oneblood.org.” People who qualify to be a donor willbe contacted by a OneBlood team member to schedule their donation, she adds.

Each plasma donation can save up to three lives, accordingto Mrs. Forbes, and donors can save even more lives by donating every month.“Regular blood donors can donate every 56 days but for plasma donations, youonly have to wait 28 days between donations,” she explains. “So, if you’vealready donated convalescent plasma, we thank you for your donation and encourageyou to make donating a habit. The need is ongoing, so please come back anddonate each time you’re eligible.”

Dr. Fahmy reiterates how important convalescent plasmadonations are to Baptist Health. “With 11 hospitals in South Florida, we’retreating a large number of COVID-19 patients,” he says. “The more readilyavailable CCP is, the better outcomes we’ll have for our patients and the morelives we can save.”

Dr. Fahmy notes that plasma donors report feeling greatabout helping others recover from the coronavirus. “When you donate convalescent plasma, you’regiving a piece of yourself to help save someone else’s life,” he says. “There’sno greater gift than to give someone their life back.”

Concerned you may have coronavirus?
Use our online Coronavirus Assessment tool or call our COVID-19 hotline, 1-833-MYBAPTIST (833-692-2784). To see a doctor on your phone from the comfort and safety of your home, download Baptist Health Care On Demand.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 13 hospitals, more than 23,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.