Your Questions About Convalescent Plasma As An Effective Treatment For COVID-19, Answered

Your Questions About Convalescent Plasma As An Effective Treatment For COVID-19, Answered
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The surge of COVID-19 cases in the country has resulted to extended lockdowns, hospitals at full capacity, and overworked health care professionals. With our current pace in vaccination rollout, Vice President Leni Robredo said that we would have to inoculate 256,993 individuals daily to achieve herd immunity by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, as vaccination efforts are underway, health care workers are doing everything they can to take care of thousands of COVID-19 patients with the help of convalescent plasma donors. But what exactly is convalescent plasma? asked Dr. Maria Krizia Miguel and Dr. Mara Janelle Japlit to enlighten us about it.

What is convalescent plasma?

To understand convalescent plasma, we have to know what “plasma” is.

“Plasma is a component of our blood which makes up 55% of it, and its main function is the transport of nutrients, antibodies, hormones, proteins, and waste products throughout our body,” says Dr. Miguel. “The term ‘convalescent’ refers to someone recovering from an illness or disease in general. Basically, convalescent plasma is plasma that is collected from individuals who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection.”

This means that the antibodies formed against the virus from a person’s previous infection can help the receiver of blood plasma fight off their current infection.

“These antibodies are found in plasma, the yellow liquid portion of the blood. The process of collecting blood is plasmapheresis, [which uses] an apheresis machine to separate the blood into different components,” explains Dr. Japlit. “The plasma is removed, while the rest of the blood components are returned into the donor’s body. Convalescent plasma provides artificial/ passive immunity through antibodies present in the plasma.”

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Is it a safe and effective treatment for COVID-19?

According to Dr. Miguel, observational findings show that patients transfused with convalescent plasma have improved clinical outcomes.

Dr. Japlit agrees, “As for COVID-19, plasma can be beneficial to boost their ability to fight the virus during the early stage of the disease, but it cannot correct/treat the existing injury that the virus did to the body.”

Though results are promising, further research about convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19 is still underway.

As of now, health centers in the Philippines are giving convalescent plasma to patients with severe or life-threatening COVID-19 infections with poor oxygenation, according to Dr. Japlit.

Can convalescent plasma be used as a treatment for other diseases?

Dr. Japlit confirms that this treatment was also practiced during previous pandemics like SARS and MERS-CoV. “It is simply a form of providing passive immunity to the recipient,” she says.

“According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it has been used as treatment in the past, as far back as the Spanish Flu. And in recent times, the Ebola Outbreak in 2014, in severe AH1N1 influenza infection where it was found to be associated with reduced mortality,” explains Dr. Miguel.

Is this treatment being widely used among health centers in the Philippines?

Dr. Japlit says, “There are only limited institutions or convalescent plasma centers, but there are initiatives to establish blood plasma banks in our country.” Hospitals and health centers with apharesis machines can practice this treatment, otherwise “blood units from COVID-19 recovered donors are not segregated from the blood unit pool,” she adds.

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Who is eligible to donate convalescent plasma?

You may donate blood plasma if you are declared to be a clinically recovered COVID-19 patient, with no COVID symptoms at least 14 days prior to donation, and have adhered to hospital requirements.

At St. Luke’s Medical Center, donors are required to have two negative COVID-19 swab tests, as well as negative results in routinary blood tests: HIV, malaria, hepatitis, and other diseases.

For the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), however, donors must be 18 to 59 years old, must weigh more than 50 kilograms, and must have signed a written consent for donation. Those who have had prior blood transfusions or women with prior pregnancies may undergo additional testing.

When asked if those who received the COVID-19 vaccine may also donate, Dr. Japlit says, “Yes, according to guidelines, COVID- 19 vaccine recipients can donate depending on the vaccine used. There is no deferral time for eligible blood donors who are vaccinated with a non-replicating inactivated or RNA-based COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca, Janssen/J&J, Moderna, Novavax, or Pfizer. Donors who received a live attenuated COVID-19 vaccine or do not know what type of COVID-19 vaccine they received must wait two weeks before donating blood.”

Where can I donate convalescent plasma?

If you meet the qualifications for donation, you may contact Plasma ng Pag-Asa, “a one-stop COVID-19 survivor registration system.” Entries are submitted to plasma collecting health centers in the Philippines, such as the Philippine General Hospital, St. Luke’s Medical Center, Lung Center of the Philippines, and the Philippine Association of Medical Technologists Cebu.

For more information, visit Plasma ng Pag-Asa’s website.

The Philippine Red Cross (PRC) is also accepting blood plasma donations from COVID-19 survivors.

For more information, visit PRC’s website and Facebook page.

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