By Sahar Chmais
Convalescent plasma has been used as a treatment for many infections, including coronaviruses such as SARS, and yielded positive results in healing patients. This method is being applied for COVID-19, but scientists are still unsure how effective it is for this virus.
What scientists know is that convalescent plasma is not harmful, so it has been approved as one of the methods for treating COVID-19 patients. It works by removing blood plasma containing antibodies from recovered COVID-19 cases and giving it to COVID-19 patients.
In Central Texas, We Are Blood is the facility that draws convalescent plasma to distribute to hospitals and doctors in the area.
“We do not have a full understanding of the effectiveness,” said Nick Canedo, vice president of community engagement at We Are Blood. “But at the same time we know of the treatment options, it is very safe in that there are no side effects. That’s why physicians and hospitals are saying we should use it to give patients any relief we can. We’ve heard, anecdotally, it’s effective — especially effective if used early.”
We Are Blood has given approximately 1,500 doses of convalescent plasma — this number may soon exponentially expand.
Canedo said that if Central Texas continues to experience a spike in hospitalizations, they will use the convalescent plasma straight from regular blood donations of those who have COVID-19 antibodies.
On Oct. 28, We Are Blood started testing all blood donations for antibodies, even donors who have never been tested for COVID-19 before. But due to limited appointments, We Are Blood only reaches out to individuals with higher levels of antibodies in their plasma to see if they can donate.
Removing convalescent plasma is a more rigorous, time consuming process which needs special machines, making it more difficult to ask for more donations.
Blood donations usually take about 15 minutes, said Canedo, but giving blood plasma takes over an hour.
David Sergi, a lawyer in San Marcos, said he enjoys the process and has already donated three times. When he goes in, he can usually read a book or zone off of social media and other technology. As for the feeling, Sergi likens it to being hooked up to an IV.
“I actually really enjoy it,” Sergi explained, “my right arm is hooked to the machine and with my left arm, I have to read a book or just think. No phones. I tried using my phone the first time and kept dropping it.”
The process to give convalescent plasma takes longer than giving blood because the donor is hooked up to a machine that separates the blood platelets from the blood, then puts blood back into the donor’s system. This allows donors to donate plasma more frequently, every 28 days, while blood donations are allowed every 56 days.
While Sergi has already donated three times, he plans to continue going as much as he can.
“I would say as far as I’m concerned, it’s almost an obligation to give back,” Sergi told the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch. “Those of us lucky enough to survive and do well, we ought to be able to give.”
We Are Blood only has three locations to donate: South Austin, Central Austin and Round Rock. They are working on mobilizing the machine to drive around to other parts of Central Texas and give more people a chance to donate.