Blood supply dwindles as COVID-19 cases spike

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – As COVID-19 cases surge in Central Texas, the demand for plasma from recovering patients is also on the rise. 150 Central Texans recovering from COVID-19 have already donated their plasma to be used in a treatment called Convalescent Plasma Treatment that could help treat sick patients. “Normally, week to week, we’ve been sending out forty to sixty units (of plasma) a week,” says Nick Canedo with We Are Blood, Central Texas’ blood donation center. “In the last seven days alone we have sent out 120 units.”

Convalescent Plasma is filled with virus fighting antibodies. It is plasma that is transferred from a recovering COVID-19 patient to a sick one. The treatment has been used for over a century on everything from SARS to Ebola.

We Are Blood has been given temporary FDA approval to collect the plasma and distribute it to hospitals throughout Central Texas. 230 donations have been sent out by We Are Blood since the program launched in early April.

To qualify to donate Convalescent Plasma, a donor must have recovered from COVID-19 and be able to prove they had the virus. They can do this by showing a positive test. They also can bring an FDA approved test that shows they have tested positive for antibodies. If the donor tests positive, they must be symptom-free for at least 14 days. At that point, they will be required to take an additional test to ensure the virus isn’t active. After 28 days, donors no longer must take a test. Donors must also meet standard blood donation criteria.

Plasma can be frozen for up to a year before it is used and will be tested again before it is donated.

The usage of Convalescent Plasma as a treatment for COVID-19 is still undergoing review. The research that showed initial signs that it could help relieve symptoms in patients has yet to be published or undergo peer review. The Mayo Clinic, who is participating in the research, even states on its website that the effectiveness of the treatment has not been proven.

Additionally, the treatment only has temporary approval by the FDA and even then, only under certain restrictions. According to the FDA website, the treatment can only be used in clinical trials, at special approved facilities, like We Are Blood, and at a physician’s request.

Additionally, blood donations in general have dropped off since the pandemic began. According to We Are Blood, at the start of the pandemic they faced a mass cancellation of mobile blood drives. The blood center collects half of their donations for hospitals and clinics from mobile blood drives. Today they are collecting about half of what they would normally collect from mobile blood drives.

According to Mr. Canedo, the amount of donations necessary wasn’t as high a couple of months ago since elective surgeries were cancelled, and everyone was staying indoors. Now that social distancing restrictions have lifted and surgeries are back on the operating table, donations are needed now more than ever. We Are Blood continues to work at a reduced capacity and, because of the safety measures they must follow, are allowed to see even less donors than they used to be able to.

You can learn more about donating at We Are Blood here.

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