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Convalescent Plasma Therapy: How COVID-19 Survivors May Help Patients With The Disease

COVID-19 Coronavirus survivor patient donating convalescent blood plasma, sitting in chair with bag being filled in blood bank.

A possible treatment for COVID-19, convalescent plasma therapy has yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But hospitals like Baylor, Scott and White are allowed to use it on a compassionate or case-by-case basis.

Convalescent plasma therapy uses proteins or antibodies from the donated, purefied blood of people who’ve survived COVID-19 to treat others with the same illness.

Dr. Uriel Sandkovsky, an infectious disease specialist with Baylor, Scott and White, says the procedure dates back to the 1800s and has been used successfully against such diseases as mumps, polio, measles – even rabies.

But he says there are still many questions to answer where COVID-19 is concerned.


What exactly is convalescent plasma?

Convalescent plasma is a way of obtaining most of the proteins (antibodies) that are in someone's blood, sparing the cells from that product and administering to patients who are ill. The blood is tested against HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and all sorts of other potential infections that can be transmitted by transfusion. Those antibodies have to have a property called a neutralizing property. The higher the property, the better those antibodies are to block the virus.

Current treatment for COVID-19:

As of today, the most important treatment for covert 19 is supportive therapy. If the patient needs to be in the hospital, oxygen is probably the most important treatment. Covid 19 causes a decrease of oxygen in the blood. Providing oxygen will help these patients survive more than anything else today.

At what point would you use convalescent plasma?

What has been shown is that the earlier you use it, the better. We know the disease manifests by two different phases, at least. One is what we call a viral face when the virus is reproducing and is actually in high quantities. When the virus is higher, that's where the plasma may have more effect, versus a later phase where kind of like the damage is done so you could reduce the virus.

What a compassionate use basis means:

Compassionate use means it's not an approved therapy yet. The FDA has to approve every patient. So if you want to use it for a patient, you have to submit a form to the FDA. It usually gets approved within the same day.

Does convalescent plasma therapy work against COVID 19?

There's some data from China, a few patients, but the data is very anecdotal. There's no clinical trial yet up and running. We're still early in the epidemic. So we do not have enough people that have recovered that are able to donate plasma to be able to build a bank. Once you have that, and this is what we're trying to do here at Baylor, you can start a clinical trial. You have to test it against a placebo if you want to do it properly. We don't know that this works for sure. We think it works, but we have to be careful interpreting the data that we have.


FDA: Donate COVID-19 Plasma

FDA: Recommendations for Investigational COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma

What Is Convalescent Plasma and How Does it Help Treat Coronavirus?

Texas doctors are using plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to treat others. They’re not yet sure if it will work.

Can plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients treat the sick?

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera

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Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.