There's no magic bullet for treating COVID-19, but one thing that appears to help some patients survive is infusions of convalescent plasma.
The plasma, taken from the blood of those who have recovered from the virus, contains antibodies already attuned to fighting COVID-19. It's believed that these reinforcements of battle-hardened cellular soldiers can help turn the tide in patients' fights against the virus.
There is not yet conclusive research on the effectiveness of the treatment — some early studies have found that it saves lives, others aren't as sure — but officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Arizona Department of Health Services are nevertheless calling for donations. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's leading COVID-19 policy adviser, has said any information gained from further research on the effectiveness of convalescent plasma will also assist in developing a COVID-19 vaccine.
In Arizona, the issue is that there's not enough of the stuff currently. The state is seeing demand for convalescent plasma that is four times greater than the current supply, said Sue Thew, spokesperson for Arizona's largest blood supplier, the nonprofit Vitalant. One donation only takes 30 to 45 minutes and has the potential to provide transfers for up to four people, making a "life or death" difference, she said.
"This gives them the antibodies to give them a fighting chance to survive COVID-19," Thew said.
Normally, plasma donors can only give once a month, but due to the emergency situation, Vitalant is allowing weekly donations of convalescent plasma, she said.
There may also be financial benefits. Christine Anderson, a center manager for BPL Plasma in Phoenix, said they BPL is offering $100 per donation of convalescent plasma due to the high demand. To donate, you must have a confirmed positive test for COVID-19, be at least 18 years old and 110 pounds, and pass a regular plasma donor health screening.
Other requirements vary between facilities. Vitalant wants potential donors to wait 28 days after symptoms subside, while BPL Plasma only requires a 14-day wait. Vitalant also doesn't accept donations from men who have had sexual contact with other men within the last year, although Thew said they are working to update their policy to meet recent FDA guidelines only requiring three months of abstinence.
Anderson at BPL Plasma declined to share their specific guidelines over the phone because she didn't want people to be "deceitful" in the screening. But she encouraged interested people to go through the screening regardless of any concerns they might have of being rejected.
If you're interested in donating your plasma, The Fight Is In Us, a coalition dedicated to collecting plasma donations from COVID-19 survivors, appears to have the most comprehensive list of donation centers. Simply enter your ZIP code here and it'll show you the closest locations accepting convalescent plasma donations. You can then sign up on their specific sites to be contacted about the specifics of making your donation. Thew said it likely won't take long: They're desperate for donations.