A Red Cross plea last month for blood donors averted what the agency described as a shortage so severe some hospitals were only days from running out of blood.
So many volunteers stepped forward that the Red Cross now deems the supply “adequate.” “We say that cautiously, because we don’t know what will come,” Paul Sullivan, senior vice president of the American Red Cross told the Washington Post.
Now, besides continuing to urge healthy people to give blood, hospitals and blood banks are asking those who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate plasma.
“If you had #COVID19 and have recovered you can help save a life. Your blood may contain antibodies that fight the virus and can help critically ill people. Please fill out this form to see if you are eligible to be a volunteer: https://bit.ly/2vTHALk,” the hospital Tweeted.
Friday, the Food and Drug Administration approved plans to test two potential therapies derived from human blood. “These are called convalescent plasma and hyperimmune globulin and are antibody-rich blood products made from blood donated by people who have recovered from the virus,” the FDA said.
The FDA program supplements the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, an ad hoc effort organized by physicians and scientists across the country to investigate using convalescent plasma against the coronavirus. The project developed guidelines for using plasma and has detailed information for potential donors and Covid-19 patients.
Before the FDA acted, some of the researchers in the project were independently testing the antibody-rich plasma on a handful of seriously sick patients. It’s too soon to know the outcome, but initial reports suggest the therapy may be lessening their symptoms.
Using blood and plasma from recovered patients goes back more than 100 years. Before antibiotics, it was one of the only therapies available. It was sufficiently successful that it’s been used to treat other types of diseases such as SARS and Ebola. Though clinical studies of the therapies are few, a detailed analysis published in 2014 in The Journal of Infectious Diseases concluded, “Convalescent plasma may reduce mortality and appears safe.”
Meanwhile, blood banks across the country are looking to healthy, uninfected individuals to make up for the cancellation of blood drives, which provide about 80% of the nation’s blood supply. There’s still a need for blood, even though demand has lessened as elective surgeries are postponed and accidents and traumatic injuries have declines with fewer people driving.
At Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic, which conducted its own blood drive, emergency physician Baruch Fertel said that as long as donations continue, “We can stay out of trouble. But we’re not out of the woods. Folks who are healthy and recovered should consider giving blood.”