July 25, 2020
Opinion Editorial by Dr. Michael Patete, MD, FACS and President-Elect of the Florida Medical Association
While there is no U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medication specifically for treating COVID-19 at this time, medical researchers are hopeful about convalescent plasma therapy’s potential to strengthen infected patients’ virus-fighting capabilities and to keep moderate cases from worsening.
The ever-rising number of reported COVID-19 cases in Florida and beyond reminds us daily of the overwhelming urgency to find effective treatments that can reduce patients’ suffering and save lives. If you are among those who have already had the virus and made a full recovery, donating your blood plasma can go a long way toward helping medical researchers achieve these goals.
People who have recovered from the coronavirus have infection-fighting antibodies in their blood, referred to as “convalescent plasma,” and convalescent plasma therapy has emerged as a promising experimental treatment for patients who are fighting the disease. George “Bud” Scholl, CEO of the not-for-profit, Florida-based blood bank OneBlood, said at a recent press conference that there has been a 500% increase in demand from hospitals for convalescent plasma. OneBlood spokesperson Susan Forbes added, “Over the past couple weeks as the numbers surge in Florida, the need for convalescent plasma is surging right along with it. There is no end in sight at this point.”
While there is no U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medication specifically for treating COVID-19 at this time, medical researchers are hopeful about convalescent plasma therapy’s potential to strengthen infected patients’ virus-fighting capabilities and to keep moderate cases from worsening. In other words, this therapy could help prevent the development of dire complications such as organ failure and acute respiratory distress – an especially important consideration for patients with chronic health conditions and/or compromised immune systems that put them at higher risk. Convalescent plasma therapy’s potential benefits could even include preventing someone from developing the disease.
It is also important to remember that Florida has one of the nation’s largest elder populations, with 20.9 percent of residents being age 65 or above according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This means millions of Floridians are in an intensely vulnerable position. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight out of 10 deaths from COVID-19 that have been reported in the United States occurred in patients who were 65 or older. Though practices such as social distancing, wearing face coverings in public and practicing good hygiene are extremely helpful, the fact is that COVID-19 remains an active threat to all and has proven to be deadly for far too many. The Florida Department of Health continues to report alarming numbers of new cases each day, and the virus has claimed more than 5,200 lives in our state alone.
Until an effective vaccine becomes widely available, we must explore the best research-based treatment options before us. Convalescent plasma therapy is a much-needed ray of hope, but more donors are necessary as demand has grown. In a recent statement, Peter Marks, MD, PhD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research said, “We’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of hospitals requesting plasma. We’re very concerned that convalescent plasma is going to become in short supply if we don’t have more people come out and donate.”
Fortunately, opportunities to participate in this effort abound. Visit the American Red Cross or OneBlood to learn more about eligibility and how to donate plasma. Even as researchers work tirelessly toward developing a vaccine for COVID-19, there is much we can do for the greater good until that day arrives.