What Is Convalescent Plasma?


Months into the COVID-19 outbreak that has prompted closures all over the country, Americans are patiently waiting for definitive guidance on how to best protect against the virus.

But while the race to a vaccine is ongoing indefinitely, officials and experts are exploring other possible treatment options to help curtail and manage the effects of virus infection.

On Sunday evening, President Trump made an announcement about a “major therapeutic breakthrough” in COVID research. He issued an emergency authorization on the use of convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19.

But what exactly is it? Here’s what you need to know about convalescent plasma.

What is convalescent plasma?

Convalescent plasma is the liquid part of blood that is collected from individuals who have recovered from coronavirus, according to the FDA.

Patients infected with COVID-19 develop antibodies against the virus in their blood.

As a therapy to treat COVID-19, the plasma can be harvested, tested and injected into people who are infected, with the antibodies in the liquid possibly helping build resistance to the effects of the virus.

Is convalescent plasma an effective treatment against coronavirus?

Convalescent plasma is currently being investigated by researchers as a possible treatment for the novel coronavirus.

It has shown some success in treating MERS and SARS — both other deadly coronaviruses — as well as against the flu and Ebola, reports CNN.

A major but not yet peer-reviewed study released Aug. 13 suggests that plasma-based therapy resulted in a lower likelihood of death in severely infected patients, reports STAT. The study was run by Mayo Clinic and sponsored by the National Institute of Health. However, it did not include a placebo for comparison, which makes it difficult to interpret the results and effectiveness.

On its website, the FDA does encourage people who have fully recovered from the virus for at least two weeks to consider donation in the interest of further research.

What is an emergency use authorization?

According to sources who spoke to CNN, today’s impending emergency use authorization decision is based on a review of additional data by the FDA. The outlet also reports that the organization was not required to consult outside authorities about the decision.

Treatment with convalescent plasma began in March, when the FDA created a pathway for scientists to research it. Since then, more than 60,000 infected individuals have been treated using plasma-based therapy.

For the FDA to green light an EUA, the same full level of evidence is not required as by FDA approval.

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