On Sunday, President Trump and the Food and Drug Administration announced emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients. “The product went from investigational use status to emergency use authorization, which generally happens when treatments are shown to be possibly effective,” explained Dr. Liz Rosenbaum, Medical Director for Vitalant.
Convalescent plasma is taken from recovered COVID-19 patients and contains antibodies that may be effective in treating people who are in a hospital fighting the virus. The FDA stated in its decision: “The known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks of the product.”
The process of contacting potential donors isn’t so simple. “There’s been a great push to get to patients who’ve had COVID-19 and then have recovered,” said Dr. Rosenbaum.
Last week, the New Mexico Department of Transportation’s digital signs along the freeways displayed a message asking people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 to contact Vitalant and donate plasma. Along with traffic updates, the NMDOT signs have recently displayed public safety messages about COVID-19.
“There are very few treatments or even potential treatments available for COVID-19,” Dr. Rosenbaum said. “So convalescent plasma is one of the treatments that may be beneficial.”
“We do not have an easy way to kind of proactively reach out to patients,” Dr. Rosenbaum explained. “That information is protected through HIPAA.”
That’s where TriCore comes in. If someone tests positive for COVID-19 through TriCore labs, they’ll now ask for patient consent to send their information to Vitalant if the person would like to donate plasma.
However, Dr. Rosenbaum said Vitalant needs plasma from patients who’ve had symptoms since antibody levels are too low in asymptomatic patients.
“The plasma that’s collected doesn’t have high enough concentration of antibodies to then help a patient that’s being treated with it,” Dr. Rosenbaum explained of plasma taken from recovered asymptomatic patients.
Donors must also be symptom-free for 28 days. “The antibody levels likely peak somewhere roughly about a month after someone’s been symptomatic,” said Dr. Rosenbaum.
Vitalant said they’ve collected roughly 800 units of plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients. It’s also being used in clinical trials across the country. Along with helping patients in New Mexico, Vitalant says it’s also sent plasma to hospitals in Arizona and Texas where the need was high.
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