Tanner Health System is encouraging donations of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients.
The health system has issued a release calling for the patients to give their blood so that the antibody-rich plasma can be extracted. The statement notes that such plasma has shown “promising results” in a Mayo Clinic trial that infused critically ill COVID patients with the plasma.
Almost 2,200 healthcare systems in the nation, including Tanner Health System, joined the Mayo Clinic Expanded Access Program. The program tested the efficacy of convalescent plasma in helping others sick with COVID-19 survive or recover faster.
Convalescent plasma is plasma from patients who overcame COVID-19, and it “is considered an experimental treatment to treat this new infection, according to Bonnie Boles, MD, the vice president of clinical transformation,” according to the release.
Boles and Dr. Laura Larson, a board-certified infectious disease specialist and medical director of infection prevention, are overseeing the convalescent plasma transfusion project for Tanner.
The plasma is sometimes referred to as “liquid gold” according to the release, due to both the potentially lifesaving contents and as well as the color of the liquid, which turns a yellow after separated from the red blood cells during the donation process.
The plasma contains antibodies, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are “proteins that help fight off infections and can provide protection against getting that disease again.” The CDC does note that with COVID-19, it is unclear how much protection the antibodies provide or how long the protection lasts.
Currently, only the sickest patients are eligible to receive the plasma donations, according to the release. Boles said in the release that those who receive it must be “critically ill with respiratory failure, on a ventilator or likely to go on a ventilatory, and likely to develop other organ failure.”
In order to receive the treatment, the patient must also have a blood type match with the plasma, just as with whole blood transfusions.
“We have no vaccine or clear-cut treatment for COVID-19 yet, and people are still getting sick,” said Dr. Boles. “Everyone wants to know what they can do to help, and convalescent plasma is potentially life-saving. Its track record with other viruses is well-established, including Ebola in 2019, H1N1 influenza in 2009, avian flu in 2003, SARS in 2002 and even the Spanish Flu back in 1918.
“It’s very encouraging for patients and their families that it could help sick patients improve or prevent them from getting sicker,” she said, “and, if it is proven effective, we will be better prepared for a possible second wave of COVID-19 this fall before a vaccine can be developed and approved for wide-scale use.”
In Carroll County, as of earlier this week, the virus has reportedly infected 1,894 residents, hospitalized 129 residents, and killed 50 residents since the pandemic began, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
The health system, as of Aug. 6, had 21 patients hospitalized at Tanner Medical Center Carrollton and 9 patients hospitalized at Tanner Medical Center Villa Rica.
In order to donate, there are several requirements, including a testing process to confirm the presence of antibodies. The American Red Cross is coordinating the donor identification process
A donor must be at least 17 years old and weigh at least 110 pounds, must be in good health, and have had a prior, verified diagnosis of the virus but is now fully recovered and symptom free.
It takes approximately one hour to donate the plasma, which is separated from the donor’s red blood cells, which are returned to the donor’s body. The plasma is quickly replenished by the body and another donation is possible in about a week to 10 days.
Patients meeting all the criteria for donation and are willing to help can complete the “Donor Request” form by visiting the Red Cross website at www.redcrossblood.org and clicking “Submit.” If you do not have access to a computer or smartphone, call the Red Cross at 1-800-733-2767.
“You can not only support our community’s participation in this study to determine convalescent plasma’s effectiveness, but you may save lives and answer questions about this potential treatment for many,” said Boles.