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COVID-19 survivors sought for plasma donations as FDA approves potential new treatment

The South Texas Blood and Tissue Center expects to begin screening people who have recovered from the coronavirus to donate plasma as soon as next week.

SAN ANTONIO — The Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved the use of convalescent plasma to potentially treat those confirmed to have the novel coronavirus. On the same day, the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center announced it would join that cause, seeking individuals who have recovered from the virus for plasma donations.

“What we believe happens is that, for those individuals that have recovered from COVID-19, the level of antibodies that they have in their plasma is substantial enough to help someone else who is actually still in the throes of the disease recover quicker," said STBTC Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Waltman.

Waltman explained that the project was approved as an investigational new drug, meaning there isn't clear-cut evidence of its efficacy.

"This is something that we're doing because we believe it will help, not because there's a mountain of information and science and studies and that sort of thing behind it," she said. "But we believe that there is enough data out there to demonstrate that this will be an effective treatment for those people who have the most severe case of COVID-19."

Meanwhile, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn tweeted Saturday the agency is conducting clinical trials across nation to gauge the effectiveness and safety of convalescent plasma to treat the coronavirus.

The utilization of convalescent plasma dates back to the Spanish Influenza of 1918, and was also used to treat individuals during the Ebola outbreak.

Waltman said the STBTC has stood by ready to begin collecting samples from eligible plasma donors for the potential treatment of COVID-19, and that the agency was awaiting approval from the FDA. Now, with that approval in hand, she said STBTC is aiming to begin collecting as soon as the coming week.

“We believe it will help, first of all, to keep (patients) off ventilators. Or, if they are on a ventilator, it will help them get off the ventilator quicker and on the path to recovery,” Waltman said of the treatment.

She said those who have received a positive test result, have recovered from the virus and are eligible to give blood should email COVID19@southtexasblood.org for further information on how to donate plasma.

For those who do not have a positive COVID-19 test result, Waltman said they will not be able to accept those individuals at this time.

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