On Sunday, President Donald Trump made what he called a "breakthrough" announcement: the US Food and Drug Administration on Sunday issued an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma as a method of treating COVID-19. The FDA explained that convalescent plasma "may be effective in treating COVID-19 and that the known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks of the product." But what is convalescent plasma, what does it do, and how can it effectively treat COVID-19? Read on—and to keep yourself and others safe during this pandemic, don't miss this essential list of the Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus.
What Are the Claims About Convalescent Plasma?
In the FDA's press release, Stephen M. Hahn, M.D., FDA Commissioner, explains that "data from studies conducted this year shows that plasma from patients who've recovered from COVID-19 has the potential to help treat those who are suffering from the effects of getting this terrible virus." The FDA determined that "it is reasonable to believe that COVID-19 convalescent plasma may be effective in lessening the severity or shortening the length of COVID-19 illness in some hospitalized patients." Wired reports that as of August 17, nearly 100,000 coronavirus patients had been treated with it. And, according to the FDA, over 70,000 patients had been successfully treated with convalescent plasma.
What Exactly Is Convalescent Plasma?
As Dr. Hahn explained, convalescent plasma is the antibody-rich blood taken from someone who has recovered from a virus. Specifically, plasma is the liquid part of your blood, explains The Mayo Clinic. Basically, when a person recovers from a virus, they form antibodies to it. These same antibodies can be very effective in neutralizing the virus in others.
How Do Doctors Get Convalescent Plasma?
Harvesting convalescent plasma is as easy as a blood draw. People who have recovered from coronavirus can simply donate their blood.
What Do They Do With Convalescent Plasma?
Convalescent plasma is used in cases of severe coronavirus infections. Doctors first must match the patient's blood type with the donor blood, then transfer the plasma to the COVID-19 patient. According to Mayo, this is done by inserting a sterile single-use needle connected to a tube (intravenous, or IV, line) into a vein in one of your arms. "When the plasma arrives, the sterile plasma bag is attached to the tube and the plasma drips out of the bag and into the tube. It takes about one to two hours to complete the procedure," they explain.
What Does Convalescent Plasma Do?
The antibodies help target the virus in the active infection, helping to clear it from the individual's system. According to Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, per the Wall Street Journal, in the FDA's studies patients hospitalized with coronavirus who received the high antibody plasma within three days of diagnosis, are under the age of 80 and not on mechanical ventilation, significantly benefited. Compared with patients who received low antibody plasma, they experienced a 35% improvement in survival 30 days after receiving the transfusion. The FDA notes that the use of convalescent plasma resulted in a 37% reduction in death. "We dream in drug development of something like a 35% mortality reduction," Azar said during the press conference. "This is a major advance in the treatment of patients. A major advance."
Why Hasn't Convalescent Plasma Been Approved Sooner?
The main issue is, there isn't a ton of scientific evidence backing up claims of effectiveness. "The problem is, we don't really have enough data to really understand how effective convalescent plasma is," Dr. Jonathan Reiner, a professor of medicine at George Washington University, told CNN on Sunday. "While the data to date show some positive signals that convalescent plasma can be helpful in treating individuals with COVID-19, especially if given early in the trajectory of disease, we lack the randomized controlled trial data we need to better understand its utility in COVID-19 treatment," added Dr. Thomas File, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, in a statement. As for yourself, to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, try not to catch it in the first place and don't miss these 37 Places You're Most Likely to Catch Coronavirus.