What is Convalescent Plasma? New Emergency COVID-19 Treatment Authorized by FDA

President Donald Trump and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Sunday announced the authorization to use convalescent plasma as an emergency treatment for hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

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The president said plasma treatment has reduced the mortality rate by 35 percent in patient trials.

What exactly is convalescent plasma?

When someone fights off a virus or infection, their body develops antibodies that help make them most likely immune to contracting that infection again. The antibodies in the plasma that helped fight off the infection could be used for others to possibly fight off the same infection, or virus, according to the FDA.

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The “convalescent” part means anyone who is recovering from the virus—in this case, COVID-19. The plasma is the yellowish liquid part of the blood, and that’s what contains the antibodies.

Who can donate plasma?

People who have already contracted COVID-19 and recovered are encouraged by the FDA and Trump to donate plasma. The antibodies from their plasma could potentially save lives of higher-risk patients with underlying conditions who have already contracted the virus.

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Is convalescent plasma a COVID-19 vaccine?

The answer is no. The plasma is not an approved vaccine or treatment, but merely an authorized for emergency use to treat patients with COVID-19.

Operation Warp Speed, under the Trump administration, allows quicker access to the treatment. It is being investigated as a possible approved treatment for COVID-19.

Why is convalescent plasma effective?

Using antibodies from plasma from recovered patients to treat current patients is something doctors have practiced for more than a century. The treatment of tens of thousands of patients has already proven effective in trials.

“Our work on convalescent plasma has delivered broader access to the product than is available in any other country and reached more than 70,000 American patients so far,” said Alex Azar, Health and Human Services Secretary. “We are deeply grateful to Americans who have already donated and encourage individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 to consider donating convalescent plasma.”

A phlebotomist inserts an IV line as Mckinley Edelman, 26, a recovered COVID-19 patient, donates plasma to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital at Inova Blood Services on April 22, 2020 in Dulles, Virginia. Photo by ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images

What does early data say about convalescent plasma for treating COVID-19?

“We’re encouraged by the early promising data that we’ve seen about convalescent plasma. The data from studies conducted this year shows that plasma from patients who’ve recovered from COVID-19 has the potential to help treat those who are suffering from the effects of getting this terrible virus,” said Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, FDA Commissioner.

According to the FDA, it’s determined “that it is reasonable to believe that COVID-19 convalescent plasma may be effective in lessening the severity or shortening the length of COVID-19 illness in some hospitalized patients.”

How can someone who has recovered from COVID-19 donate plasma?

People who have recovered from the virus for at least two weeks are encouraged by the FDA and President Trump to donate. They must have a prior diagnosis and be cleared of the virus for 14 days, the FDA website states.

Here are a list of resources to donate plasma:

America’s Blood Centers
American Red Cross
Blood Centers of America
CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance
National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project
Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association
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