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

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July 14, 2020


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

COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma (CCP) therapy is an experimental treatment that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized for emergency use to treat COVID-19 patients, according to Samer Fahmy, M.D., chief medical officer for Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health South Florida. Baptist Health was one of the first health institutions in the state to use CCP therapy to treat COVID-19 and is partnering with the Mayo Clinic on a study that Dr. Fahmy says should soon provide irrefutable 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 so that you can better fight the virus, according to Dr. Fahmy. “Over the past three or four months, we’ve used it to treat 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 length of stay, it also reduces the severity of the disease and its complications.”

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

When Baptist Health started using CCP therapy in April, it was to treat the most critically ill patients with serious co-morbidities such as 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 for patients to be admitted to intensive care,” says Dr. Fahmy. “For CCP to be truly effective, it needs to be administered early on – before the patient 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 it can help prevent its progression.”

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

The increase in hospitalizations – and the effort to treat COVID-19 patients with CCP therapy as soon as they require oxygen support – has led to a shortage of convalescent plasma in South Florida. Health officials are scrambling 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 corporate communications and public relations for OneBlood, the blood center that serves hospitals throughout Florida and operates blood donation centers across the state and much of the southeastern 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 resolution of symptoms for at least 14 days prior to donation and provide a documented diagnosis of COVID-19 by a laboratory or hospital, or provide a positive COVID-19 antibody test. You’ll need to provide this information and complete a pre-registration form at oneblood.org.” People who qualify to be a donor will be contacted by a OneBlood team member to schedule their donation, she adds.

Each plasma donation can save up to three lives, according to 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, you only have to wait 28 days between donations,” she explains. “So, if you’ve already donated convalescent plasma, we thank you for your donation and encourage you to make donating a habit. The need is ongoing, so please come back and donate each time you’re eligible.”

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

Dr. Fahmy notes that plasma donors report feeling great about helping others recover from the coronavirus. “When you donate convalescent plasma, you’re giving a piece of yourself to help save someone else’s life,” he says. “There’s no 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. Use code CARE19 for a free visit.

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