Fighting COVID-19 By Donating Plasma

| July 4, 2020 | 0 Comments

In 1901, Emil von Behring won the very first Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Von Behring earned the recognition with his ground-breaking work (along with a couple of others) in developing the first effective therapeutic serum against diphtheria. The researchers immunized rats, guinea pigs, and rabbits with an attenuated form of the diphtheria pathogen. The sera (certain blood components) produced by these immunized test subjects were then injected into non-immunized animals that were previously infected with fully virulent diphtheria bacteria. Behring and his colleagues found that the ill animals could be cured through the administration of serum from the immunized ones. This was prior to the development of good diphtheria vaccines for humans. In those days, in Germany alone, more than 50,000 children died of diphtheria every year. Von Behring’s discoveries began to change this.

The first successful therapeutic serum treatment of a child suffering from diphtheria occurred in 1891. In 1894, von Behring began producing and marketing the therapeutic serum in collaboration with a pharmaceutical company in Frankfurt. They used large animals such as sheep and horses for production, because they could obtain large amounts of serum at a time. Von Behring’s work became the basis for diphtheria treatment and vaccines that are still used today. Widespread vaccination has decreased the incidence of diphtheria in the world, but, even today, when someone is sickened by diphtheria, they are treated with antitoxins derived from horse serum.

Right now, a similar treatment is being explored for its usefulness in fighting COVID-19. Medical researchers have found that blood plasma from individuals previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 appears to have a therapeutic effect on those that are seriously ill with the disease. Those who have recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their blood that their bodies produced to fight off the disease. These antibodies help protect these individuals from re-infection, and may also help someone who is currently fighting the disease recover more quickly.

At this point the treatment method is still in the research stage. It is not completely proven that convalescent plasma is effective or safe in treating COVID-19. However, other effective treatments for COVID-19 have not yet been found/approved, and convalescent plasma appears to be one of the best candidates for treatment at this point. Thousands of people sickened by COVID-19 have received convalescent plasma so far, and studies continue.

The Food and Drug Administration is encouraging anyone who has fully recovered from COVID-19 and meets certain criteria to consider donating plasma. In order to qualify for donation, individuals must have had a prior diagnosis of COVID-19 documented by a laboratory test. Individuals wanting to donate must be free of COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days before the donation date, and a negative lab test for active COVID-19 is not necessary. Prospective donors must be at least 17 years old, weigh 110 pounds, and be in good health.

Unfortunately, it appears the only way to register for convalescent plasma donation is online. American Red Cross is working with the FDA to coordinate plasma donation. Their page can be accessed by following this link or by typing the following address into a web browser: The page contains a form asking for contact and personal health information. Red Cross will then contact you with information on blood donation centers near to you.  If you are not able to register online, you could stop by a local American Red Cross office and ask if they can register you.

Only individuals whose COVID-19 sickness has been previously confirmed by a laboratory test are eligible to donate convalescent plasma. That means those who believe they have had COVID-19 but did not have a confirmed diagnosis will not be able to participate. As a suggestion to those who are sick right now or will get sick in the future, go ahead and get tested. Even if you don’t care about a positive diagnosis for COVID-19 otherwise, it could help you help others later on.

Those who have not contracted COVID-19 but still want to help could consider normal, whole-blood donation. Donor centers have experienced a significant reduction in donations due to social distancing measures and the cancellation of blood drives. A blood transfusion is needed approximately every two seconds by an ill or injured person in the United States, and hospitals depend on individuals like you and I to keep stocks up. If you have not donated blood before, further information can be obtained on the American Red Cross website or by calling 1-800-RED-CROSS (1 (800) 733-2767).

~Leonard Hege


Category: Public

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