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Essential Hospitals Study Convalescent Plasma Treatment for COVID-19

Essential hospitals nationwide are participating in a clinical trial to study whether plasma from previously infected COVID-19 patients can help patients currently battling the virus recover more rapidly.

The trial — a partnership among the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Mayo Clinic, and the Red Cross — provides access to experimental convalescent plasma to treat patients with severe or life-threatening cases of COVID-19.

People who have recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies to the disease in their blood plasma, known as convalescent plasma. Hospitals encourage recovered patients who meet FDA eligibility requirements to donate their blood to help others. Eligible donors must take a laboratory test yielding a negative diagnosis for COVID-19 and have a complete resolution of symptoms for at least 14 days.

Donated blood goes through a process to separate blood cells and the plasma containing antibodies. Current COVID-19 patients are transfused with the donor’s convalescent plasma, and researchers monitor the patient’s symptoms.

Several America’s Essential Hospitals members are participating in this convalescent plasma trial, including, but not limited to:

  • Einstein Healthcare Network, in Philadelphia;
  • Henry Ford Health System, in Detroit;
  • Lee Health, in Fort Myers, Fla.;
  • MedStar Washington Hospital Center, in Washington, D.C.;
  • Memorial Healthcare System, in Hollywood, Fla.;
  • Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston, S.C.;
  • Oregon Health & Science University, in Portland, Ore.;
  • Orlando Health, in Orlando, Fla.;
  • RWJBarnabas Health, in Jersey City, N.J.;
  • Stamford Health, in Stamford, Conn.;
  • State University of New York, in Albany, N.Y.;
  • Tampa General Hospital, in Tampa, Fla.;
  • The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, in Columbus, Ohio;
  • The University of Kansas Health System, in Kansas City, Kan.;
  • UC Health, in Cincinnati;
  • UMass Memorial Health Care, in Worcester, Mass.;
  • University of Missouri Health Care, in Columbia, Mo.;
  • UNM Health Sciences Center, in Albuquerque;
  • The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler, in Tyler, Texas; and
  • VCU Health, in Richmond, Va.

The use of convalescent plasma as a passive immunization technique is not a new concept. Absent a vaccine or other specific treatments, convalescent plasma therapy has been used since the 1890s for infectious diseases, including the Spanish flu of 1918. Recently, convalescent plasma has shown positive outcomes when used to treat coronaviruses that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome, as well as swine flu (H1N1).

Two studies in China have examined the use of convalescent plasma in severely ill patients with COVID-19. One study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed positive results in five critically ill patients with COVID-19 and acute respiratory distress syndrome. In another study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 10 COVID-19 patients who received convalescent plasma treatment showed improved symptoms and no severe adverse effects.

Since these were small studies and some patients also received other experimental medications, it is difficult to ascertain whether convalescent plasma is truly effective in treating COVID-19. This new study will enable many U.S. hospitals to test the efficacy of convalescent plasma and potentially help severely ill patients recover from COVID-19.

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About the Author

Iti Madan is a former research assistant at America's Essential Hospitals.

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