Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott said convalescent plasma is the best bet Central Texas physicians have in treating severe cases of COVID-19 and among the few treatment options that have shown success.
"It’s the the thing that we can get, and can get more of in that second surge of cases that we certainly expect to see this fall and this winter," Escott said. "We don’t have other options right now, and I think this represents the best hope that we have of maintaining a treatment, which we can self-produce for that event."
We Are Blood established a COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Program under the Mayo Clinic's Expanded Access Program for convalescent plasma in April. According to We Are Blood President and CEO Marshall Cothran, the organization was confident in its plasma stock until July, when cases surged in Travis County and the surrounding area. Within 10 days, We Are Blood's plasma inventory had been depleted. We Are Blood now has a comfortable stock of plasma again, but Cothran said he is determined to be ready if another surge occurs.
“It almost feels eerily like it felt in June, when we had built up this program for two months and we felt like we could handle anything. Then July came, and we couldn’t," Cothran said.
While We Are Blood seeks to ramp up its supply, it also faces a deadline from the Food and Drug Administration's new Emergency Use Authorization for COVID-19 convalescent plasma. The FDA's investigational program will broaden access to the treatment, but it will also require organizations such as We Are Blood to do additional testing of plasma units that measure the effectiveness, or titer, of antibodies in each donation by Dec. 1.
Over the coming months, We Are Blood aims to expand its donation pool to include Central Texans who may be unaware that they have been exposed to COVID-19. Through antibody testing, We Are Blood can determine if any blood donor is a candidate for convalescent plasma donation. Cothran estimates 51,000 antibody screening tests will be needed over the course of the program.
In order to recruit individuals who have recovered after testing positive for COVID-19, We Are Blood has proposed an advertising campaign featuring local celebrities who have recovered from the virus—such as Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel—encouraging recovered patients to make plasma donations.
The advertising campaign, as well as the antibody tests and plasma titer analysis kits needed to run the program for 12 months, would cost $600,000 of Travis County's CARES Act funds. County commissioners will vote on the allocation at a future meeting.
Individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 and wish to donate plasma can learn more at www.weareblood.org/convalescent-plasma.