Some blood banks say need for convalescent plasma donors drops as patients recover

Updated: Jun. 29, 2020 at 5:39 PM CDT
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JEFFERSON PARISH, La. (WVUE) - A blood donor recruiter at East Jefferson General Hospital says the need for plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients has slowed as more people recover.

However, doctors say there's still a lot to learn about antibodies and how they work.

David Burns says he tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies in April, and donated his plasma twice at East Jeff.

"It seemed like the thing to do. They were using it, and I was helping people," Burns said.

Susan Persigo, who works at the hospital's blood bank says as of June 2, 23 patients donated 129 units of COVID convalescent plasma, which helped 37 patients recover.

"The response to the request to donate plasma was very good. So good in fact, that we have a good amount of plasma in our freezers right now," Persigo said.

She says now that elective surgeries have resumed at the hospital, there's a greater need for red blood cells than COVID-19 plasma.

"Recovered COVID patients can donate plasma by donating whole blood, because we split then exat whole blood into plasma, and into red cells. So you're actually helping to treat two patients," Persigo said.

Dr. Lucio Miele with LSU Health says while most infected patients develop antibodies, the devil is in the details.

"People differ genetically in their repertoire of antibody genes, and so two different people may make the antibodies to different bits of the virus," Miele said.

He says there are at least three parts to the virus that patients can develop antibodies for, and most research trials only test for one.

"If it's measured correctly with sufficient sensitivity and specificity, you have been exposed to the virus. It does not say whether you are protected," Miele said.

He says some antibodies actually protect the virus.

"Depending on what kinds of antibodies a person makes, they can be protected, or they can make matters worse," Miele said.

Burns says he plans to go back to East Jeff to see whether he still has antibodies three months later.

“Not knowing whether I’m actually immune or what you know. I mean, I know I do have the antibodies. How much good the antibody is to you is open to interpretation at this point, but I’ll know this week if I still have them, so it’ll be interesting,” Burns said.

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