Blood bank wants to test every donor for COVID-19 antibodies in effort to stockpile more convalescent plasma


AUSTIN (KXAN) — After nearly 46,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Central Texas, We Are Blood says only about 400 to 500 of those who’ve recovered have donated convalescent plasma to help others hospitalized with the virus.

Austin Public Health says increasing the area’s supply could be the best way to prepare for another surge.

We Are Blood says convalescent plasma went into such short supply this summer as the area’s cases surged that the nonprofit had to order what it could from blood banks in New York, while hospitals rationed doses.

“So instead of two doses being given to hospitalized patient early in their course, which seems so far to be the most optimal therapy, they’re having to give one dose to patients more critical in their course later to try to keep them alive,” said Marshall Cothran, president and CEO of We Are Blood.

Cothran asked Travis Commissioners Tuesday to fund a $600,000 campaign to recruit donors and stockpile thousands of plasma donations for future surges. If approved, funding for the campaign would buy media ads and new machines for mobile plasma donations.

It would allow We Are Blood to test everyone who comes in to donate blood for antibodies, then use the plasma in their blood to help sick patients, if enough antibodies are present.

“There’s so many people out there that could have had COVID, asymptomatic, or they never got tested to create their diagnosis, that could be caught and brought in and identified,” Cothran said.

The National Institutes of Health recently said there isn’t enough data to show convalescent plasma helps COVID-19 patients, but with the drug Remdesivir in short supply, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority Dr. Mark Escott says treating patients with convalescent plasma is the best bet.

“Talking to our clinicians, talking to our healthcare executives, our three major systems, as of Friday of last week, they all believe in the benefit of convalescent plasma,” Escott said Tuesday. “All of those systems are still utilizing convalescent plasma, and it’s the thing that we have. It’s the thing that we can get. It’s the thing that we can make more of in that second wave, in that second surge of cases that we certainly expect to see this fall and this winter.”

Austin Public Health routinely asks those who test positive for COVID-19 if they’d be willing to donate plasma during the contact tracing process. It’s then up to the patient to work with We Are Blood to coordinate.

If Travis County approves We Are Blood’s proposal using CARES Act funding for the project, it would fund antibody testing for all blood donors at We Are Blood for the next year. When their plasma is taken, it has a shelf life of at least a year, Cothran says.

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