Wanted: Patients who have recovered from COVID-19 and are willing to donate their plasma.
A few days after it was reported that the Mayo Clinic was leading a national trial to use donated plasma as a treatment for those suffering from rapid and sometimes deadly respiratory disease, Dr. Michael Joyner, Mayo’s doctor who led the program, called it “hope, a reasonable strategy” to combat this pandemic.
“This has been successful in the past with other infectious diseases,” he said. “But the most important thing is for people who are recovering from a confirmed COVID-19 case to contact their provider or local blood collection center.”
Joyner said the goal of plasma therapy is to prevent sick people from ending up in the ICU or to speed up patients in the ICU, thereby reducing pressure on the health care system.
The cooperative effort involved 40 institutions in 20 countries, with Mayo leading the project.
“Our main goal over the next few weeks is to increase shipments of this product throughout the country,” Joyner said in a conference call with regional media and the government.
Joyner suggested that the speed involved in bringing the trial together was not unusual. Which usually takes 18 months to prepare for trial has taken 18 days.
This task is being handled with a sense of urgency because of the nature of the infectious virus. Minnesota health officials reported on Monday that 51 more people tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to just 1,000. Of those who tested positive, 470 did not need to be isolated anymore.
But this effort is also being strengthened by “promising” case reports emerging from China, as well as hopeful anecdotal evidence from hospitals in New York and Houston.
Joyner said the challenge would not spark interest in the effort. He estimates that there will be many former COVID-19 patients who are willing to become donors.
The challenge is to identify the donors, get them scheduled to donate, and make “a rolling ball so we have a supply of this product to treat patients,” he said.
“The big obstacle is not interest in the project,” he added. “The big obstacle is (the process) for potential donors.”
Joyner was asked how therapy could contribute to returning people’s lives to their normal state.
He compared it to the 1957 flu epidemic, which reportedly caused 1 million to 2 million deaths worldwide. The epidemic has two waves. This pandemic is likely to have a second wave, but it’s not as bad as it is now. Plasma therapy will help fight the current end of the wave and “very helpful” in the second case.
“This disease will miraculously not disappear in the near future,” he said. “There will still be sporadic outbreaks in cases until there is a vaccine.”
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