Researchers Say Plasma May Help COVID-19 Patients, But Lack Proof

Researchers need more evidence to prove plasma can help COVID-19 patients. But as the demand grows, supply is waning.
Posted at 1:02 PM, Aug 15, 2020

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic are trying to determine if blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors may help others battle the virus.

Convalescent plasma was used to fight the flu and measles before vaccines were introduced. But research shows it only works for some diseases. And though a Mayo Clinic study showed some promise in giving plasma to coronavirus patients, there's neither proof nor a protocol for how to use it.

The lead researcher for the study said plasma showed "signals of efficacy" among 35,000 patients given the treatment. There was a reduced death rate among those given plasma within three days of diagnosis for COVID-19. 

The study was part of an FDA "expanded access" program, which is intended to increase participation in experimental therapies that may help treat the virus. However, because the patients were treated in different hospital settings across the country, researchers couldn't conclusively credit the plasma treatments for improved patient health.

As studies around the country are accelerating, some have bogged down due to many patients refusing to participate if they may be given placebo treatments. Those are necessary to compare patients actually given a plasma infusion with those unknowingly provided with a treatment lacking any plasma.

Reuters says multiple hospitals are experiencing shortages in plasma stock and the research also faces challenges due to the widely varied presence of coronavirus in different U.S. cities. The American Red Cross saw its reserve fall more than 70% in July after shipping out plasma faster than it received donations.

On Thursday, President Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci asked more recovered patients to donate.

"So if you've had the virus, if you donate, it would be a terrific thing. We really need donations of the plasma, to those that have had the virus. You've gotten through it. And I guess that means you have something very special there. Right? So we would appreciate that. It would help a lot of people."