AUSTIN (KXAN) — Starting Wednesday, We Are Blood will test all blood donations it receives for coronavirus antibodies, then let donors know within a week whether they tested positive for the antibodies.
The new effort aims to find more convalescent plasma donors, as health officials expect a second wave of coronavirus cases to spike in November.
Hospitals in Central Texas have been treating struggling COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma donations. However, the area does not have as much plasma on reserve as health officials would like, after much of the supply was depleted when cases spiked in June and July.
“We’d built up an inventory at that time, but when a spike in cases and hospitalizations occurred in Central Texas in the summer, especially during June and July, our inventory was stripped,” said Nick Canedo, We Are Blood’s VP of Community Engagement. “We had to rely on importing convalescent plasma from other areas of the country to be able to meet the needs of hospitals, physicians and the patients being treated here in Central Texas. So, that’s the big fear now is that as cases rise here, we will also not have adequate inventory to meet that need.”
Before Wednesday, only those recovered COVID-19 patients who could provide a positive coronavirus test could donate convalescent plasma through We Are Blood.
The new effort opens up the door for everyone to be tested for antibodies, so that those who did not get tested at the time or may have been asymptomatic can donate, as well.
Once blood is donated, We Are Blood will test a sample of it with one test that will show whether antibodies are present, then another test that will show whether enough antibodies are still present for that person’s convalescent plasma to be effective.
Those who pass both of the tests will be asked to come back in for a convalescent plasma donation. However, if there’s a spike in cases and more convalescent plasma is needed than is available, We Are Blood plans to also begin extracting convalescent plasma from the blood donations it already has in stock.
It’s important to note that the antibody testing identifies antibodies present in recovered COVID-19 patients. It does not detect current cases of COVID-19. We Are Blood urges anyone who is experiencing symptoms or may have had contact with someone who has COVID-19 to wait to donate blood.
The blood bank hopes the opportunity to find out whether they have antibodies for the virus will encourage more people to donate all types of blood. Donations and blood drives have been down during the pandemic, and We Are Blood says it’s critically low on blood supply.
“Blood drive hosts like companies, schools, churches and other communities are more hesitant to hold those blood drives or are not holding in person gatherings to host blood drives,” Canedo said. “So that has put a significant strain on our blood donation inventory. Right now, we have less than a day’s inventory of critical blood types like O+ and O+, and those are what’s used in blood transfusions to treat traumas, surgical patients, cancer treatments, and even mothers and newborns who are experiencing complicated births, so it’s urgently important.”
In early September, We Are Blood asked Travis County for $600,000 to pay for the antibody testing and a public awareness campaign about the need for donors. The non-profit has also asked Williamson County and other potential funding sources for help with funding.
Neither has agreed to provide that money, yet. We Are Blood says it will internally fund the antibody tests as long as it can, but it will need help sustaining the program down the road.