One of those treatments involves the transfusion of convalescent plasma, in which antibodies collected from a recovered coronavirus patient are used to treat hospitalized patients. The treatment, which is still being studied in its infancy, has so far shown promising returns in keeping mild cases of coronavirus from turning into critical cases, local health care officials said.
“By infusing early on in the course the disease antibodies, we think that will help [patients] fight off the virus faster before some of the more serious effects of the virus take place,” said Dr. Kristin Mondy, the chief of infectious diseases in the Department of Internal Medicine at Dell Medical School at The University of Texas.
Now, with Austin experiencing record-high cases of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations, Dell Medical School and We Are Blood, a local nonprofit blood and plasma donation organization, urged the public June 29 to donate plasma to help patients currently experiencing complications from the coronavirus.
The plea for more donations comes as We Are Blood reports it is facing critically low levels of convalescent plasma for local hospitals to use to treat coronavirus patients.
“In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been seeing double the amount of donation need for convalescent plasma,” said Nick Canedo, vice president of Community Engagement for We Are Blood. “Right now we barely have enough to meet a single day [of demand].”
We Are Blood has relaxed its rules to donate convalescent plasma as the need for the treatment increases. Previously, Canedo said only recovered coronavirus patients with positive COVID-19 test results would be accepted to donate their plasma. Now, We Are Blood is accepting individuals who have received positive results from antibody tests that have been approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Antibody tests check if individuals have had a past infection of COVID-19 and are not advised to test if a person is currently infected with the coronavirus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are currently more than 20 antibody tests approved for use by the FDA, according to the agency’s website.
Individuals who have a lab-confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis or a confirmed antibody test may qualify to donate convalescent plasma through We Are Blood. According to the nonprofit, interested individuals must have experienced no COVID-19 symptoms for at least 14 days and meet other standard criteria for blood or plasma donation.
Those interested in donating convalescent plasma can fill out a form on We Are Blood’s website to see if they may be qualified to donate. That form can be found here.
Canedo said We Are Blood has enacted several safety measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus during the pandemic. According to We Are Blood’s website, all donations must be made by appointment, and masks are required for donors and all staff.
We Are Blood continues to take blood donation appointments at three permanent locations, and the organization's mobile clinic has appointments available at more than 50 locations through the end of July, according to its website.
Canedo added We Are Blood is facing critically low levels of blood donations as the pandemic wears on. While coronavirus hospitalizations surge, Canedo said hospital patients still require blood transfusions for accidents, cancer treatment and births.
“Right now we are experiencing critical shortages,” Canedo said.
Across Austin, hospitalizations from COVID-19 complications are as high as they have ever been. According to data from Austin-Travis County health authorities, the seven-day moving average for new coronavirus hospital admissions June 28 stood at 52, an average twice as high from where it was just one week prior.
In a June 29 letter to local leaders, Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said the regional hospital system's intensive care unit capacity to treat coronavirus patients currently sits near 70%.
While medical studies researching the efficacy of convalescent plasma are still relatively young compared to traditional medical trials, Mondy said Dell Medical School has not observed any issues with the treatment causing harm or organ damage.
Continued access to convalescent plasma, which may become increasingly difficult as other hospitals nationwide experience growing demand, may be vital to sustain positive patient outcomes in Austin, Mondy said.
“After taking care of patients since March, I wouldn't say anything is a slam dunk. You don’t give one drug and immediately see them get better,” Mondy said. “But plasma carries a significant part of that process that we use to get people better, and it’s important we don’t lose that arm of our therapeutics.”