Doctors turning to convalescent plasma for high-risk COVID-19 patients

Posted at 10:13 PM, Apr 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-09 23:21:08-04

CLEVELAND, Ohio — A new treatment protocol using plasma from blood donations might be able to help high-risk COVID-19 patients. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the protocol created by a research center in Cincinnati, according to Lt. Governor John Husted. That treatment is now set to go statewide, but doctors are warning this is not a cure.

“The only thing that’s really going to get us out of this is a vaccine,” said University Hospitals Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Amy Edwards.

But Edwards says using convalescent plasma for treatment could help mitigate the virus.

“It’s a method we use all the time,” she said.

Edwards says the method is usually used for those with immune deficiencies, but it can be used for those infected with the virus.

“We take plasma from somebody who is convalescent so somebody who had the disease and has recovered because presumably if they’ve recovered it’s because their immune system fought the virus and so that means they’re immune system is very active against the virus,” she said. “So what we’re hoping to catch some of that activity and give it to somebody who is not having an easy time with it in hopes that that donor immune system will help the recipient.”

The plasma would be donated from donors who have fully recovered from COVID-19. Officials say the donors would also have to be symptom free for 14 days with a negative follow-up test. According to the American Red Cross, their staff is working to identify donors and manage plasma distribution to hospitals. A spokesperson referred News 5 to the following statement:

“We know this is an uncertain and trying time for many across the country as the nation works to respond to this public health crisis. On March 24, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a new initiative to collect plasma from those who have recovered from this new coronavirus to treat patients with serious or immediately life-threatening COVID-19 infections.

The American Red Cross believes that this effort is necessary and urgent to enable rapid access to potentially lifesaving care for those seriously ill. Historically, convalescent plasma was used as a treatment when new diseases or infections developed quickly, and no treatments or vaccines were available yet.

The Red Cross has been asked by the FDA to help identify prospective donors and manage the distribution of these products to hospitals treating patients in need. Currently, we are collaborating with FDA to develop a process to identify and qualify individuals who have recovered from the virus and have antibodies that may help patients seriously ill with COVID-19 in their recovery. On March 30, we established a new webpage,, to help collect prospective donor information. Eligible donors who submit their information will receive an appointment to donate convalescent plasma at a Red Cross or non-Red Cross collection site.

The safety of our staff, donors and ultimate recipients remains our top priority. Only those individuals who have recovered fully from COVID-19 are eligible to donate therapeutic plasma.

We look forward to continuing to work with the FDA and other stakeholders to support this new development in the fight against COVID-19.”

Still, Edwards says there are some concerns.

“Any of the trials that are ongoing none of them are going to be full proof,” she said. “One we don’t know how well it works. Getting that information is something we still need to do. And two it’s very likely that even if it does work it’s only going to work on a certain subset of people. It probably will not work for everybody.”

Right now, Edwards says there’s no general call out for plasma in Cleveland because hospitals are doing well staying under patient capacity all thanks to social distancing.

“Certainly, if we got into a situation where we were being so overrun that we were struggling to care for patients we might get to that point. We are not participating in a trial for plasma yet. Whether that time may come I don’t know.”

For more information on plasma donations and how to help, click here.