A look at convalescent plasma as a treatment for coronavirus

Convalescent plasma regarded as precious resource in battle against COVID-19

A look at what convalescent plasma actually is.
A look at what convalescent plasma actually is.

DETROIT – It is the latest treatment to win emergency use authorization from the Federal Drug Administration, but exactly what is convalescent plasma?

Some regard it as a very old idea that may be helpful against the new virus. It is also seen as a precious resource in the battle against COVID-19.

Plasma is the liquid portion of the blood. That liquid portion contains the natural immunity that someone develops in response to an infection, in this case COVID-19.

Blood is drawn from a survivor and pumped into a machine which separates the plasma. You can see yellow liquid from the other parts of the blood.

The rest of the blood is returned to the donor and the plasma can be given to a patient with COVID-19.

In June, Local 4 News anchor Evrod Cassimy donated plasma after he recovered from the coronavirus.

“I just got done with my plasma donation, and overall, it was a good experience,” said Cassimy.

Convalescent plasma has been used to treat other viruses including SARS, MERS and Ebola.

Several doctors believe it has helped some COVID-19 patients recover. But it hasn’t been through randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials. That makes it difficult to determine how much the treatment is helping overall.

Since April more than 70,000 Americans have received convalescent plasma.

The emergency use authorization from the FDA will increase the number of patients who can receive it.

But it may also hurt research efforts since patients will be reluctant to join a trial where there’s a chance they would receive the placebo, instead of the actual plasma. There is also a supply shortage.

“We are depleting our COVID-19 plasma inventory faster than we can replace it,” said Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the American Red Cross.

The Red Cross and FDA have both issued an urgent plea asking more survivors to donate.

Recent data suggests convalescent plasma may be more beneficial when given within three days of diagnosis.


About the Authors:

Karen Drew is the anchor of Local 4 News First at 4, weekdays at 4 p.m. She is also an award-winning investigative reporter and part of the Local 4 Defenders team.

Natasha Dado is a digital content producer for ClickOnDetroit.