Story at a glance

  • “Starting this week, plasma from standard blood donations may be used to treat coronavirus patients, if they test positive for COVID-19 antibodies,” a Red Cross spokesperson says.
  • Some preliminary data suggests that convalescent plasma may help some coronavirus patients — especially those who are seriously ill.

Your blood donation could help patients who are battling COVID-19, especially with a potential second wave of cases this fall, a possibility that concerns infectious diseases experts. This message calling for more blood donations comes from the American Red Cross, which has just announced a new development that’s being called a “game changer” in helping COVID-19 patients recover.

“Starting this week, plasma from standard blood donations may be used to treat coronavirus patients, if they test positive for COVID-19 antibodies,” Stephanie Rendon, Media Relations Manager at the Red Cross, tells Changing America.

Your blood is made up of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma. Plasma contains antibodies, proteins made by the immune system to attack what’s making you sick; in this case, it's COVID-19 antibodies. Convalescent plasma comes from people who are “convalescing” or recovering from having had an illness.

“Historically, convalescent plasma has been used as a potentially lifesaving treatment in some situations when new diseases or infections develop quickly, and no treatments or vaccines were available yet,” says Jessica Merrill, director of Biomedical Communications at American Red Cross, in an interview with Changing America. “Convalescent plasma is plasma collected from patients who have recovered from an infection and have antibodies that might help fight that infection. Then that antibody-rich plasma is transfused into a patient who is critically ill. Some preliminary data suggests that convalescent plasma may help some coronavirus patients – especially those who are seriously ill.”


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Since April 2020, the Red Cross has been collecting COVID-19 convalescent plasma from previously diagnosed individuals who could only give at one of approximately 170 Red Cross blood donation sites nationwide.

But American Red Cross Chief Medical Officer Pampee Young says, “With only 2 percent of the U.S. population testing positive for COVID-19, finding eligible convalescent plasma donors to help patients is a little like finding a needle in a haystack.”

But now whole blood donations made at any Red Cross blood drive or blood donation center may be used.

In the latest development that’s just started this week, Red Cross blood donation testing for COVID-19 antibodies will provide new, increased opportunities to help more patients who are battling the coronavirus.


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“On Sept. 21, the Red Cross began secondary testing of donations that come back positive to confirm COVID-19 antibody test results. This enables the Red Cross to then potentially use the plasma from those donations to aid coronavirus patients. These tests are also critical in helping to identify individuals who have COVID-19 antibodies and may qualify as convalescent plasma donors for future donation,” reports Merrill.

“Being able to use the plasma from all blood donations that test positive for COVID-19 antibodies is a game changer in helping to build a readily available supply of convalescent plasma to ensure patients have access to all treatment options available to help them recover from this terrible virus,” says Young.


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Published on Sep 25, 2020