COVID-19 Survivors May Help Save Lives by Donating Blood

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Washington State Department of Health, and Bloodworks Northwest are partnering to make the antibodies of people who have recovered from COVID-19 available to those currently sick with the disease. This is one potentially effective treatment that can be administered and evaluated soon, while vaccines are being developed.

This month, CDC began sending letters to people in the state of Washington who were recently sick with COVID-19 to ask them to consider donating blood plasma as soon as possible.

When someone is infected with a virus, their body makes antibodies, or proteins, that help their immune system kill the virus. Plasma is the part of blood that contains those antibodies. People who have previously been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 may have antibodies specific to the virus. Treating patients with plasma donated by people who were previously sick with the same infection (called convalescent plasma) or with concentrated antibodies manufactured from pools of convalescent plasma (called hyperimmune globulin) has been successfully used to treat other infectious diseases.

“Treating patients with the antibody-based products from those who have survived an infection may boost the immune systems of those who are sick and has the potential to save lives,” said Sridhar Basavaraju, M.D., Director of CDC’s Office of Blood, Organ and Other Tissue Safety.

As CDC works with the Washington State Department of Health to contact patients previously infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, the nonprofit blood collection organization Bloodworks Northwest will ensure that donors are healthy enough to donate and will coordinate testing to determine the level of antibodies in their blood. Once collected, plasma will be made into hyperimmune globulin to be studied for effectiveness. Other plasma will also be available to healthcare providers for transfusion as convalescent plasma. The FDA regulates convalescent plasma when it is infused into patients as an “investigational new drug” and will permit doctors to use it to treat patients with COVID-19 after submitting a request to FDA for investigational use.

“This program is looking for people who’ve had the COVID-19 disease and recovered, and have been symptom free for 28-days, to be fully screened to donate their antibody-rich plasma,” said Dr. Rebecca Haley, Bloodworks Northwest Medical Director of Cell Therapy. “People who believe they might qualify for this study and have received a previous positive test result are urged to contact us immediately at 206-689-6689 to assist these efforts. We are not able to accept presumed cases of COVID-19 at this time.”

In the United States, the virus that causes COVID-19 has infected more than 600,000 people and more than 24,000 people have died. Thousands, however, have recovered and could be a source of convalescent plasma, which could help other patients recover and prevent deaths.