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Demand for convalescent plasma triples as COVID-19 cases rise

Updated: Jan. 9, 2021 at 6:33 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - As COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalizations continue to rise, the demand for convalescent plasma, a well-known treatment for those battling the virus, has skyrocketed.

The Red Cross says hospital distributions of convalescent plasma have increased by 250% since October, and there’s now a national shortage.

Recent studies show convalescent plasma if given early, can help keep older adults from getting seriously sick. The Blood Connection, which provides blood products to more than 70 hospitals in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia says it’s one of the most used COVID-19 treatments in hospitals.

“If people are pretty much going to go into the critical care unit, they are pretty much going to get convalescent plasma,” Medical Director of The Blood Connection Dr. Robert Rainer said. “If it was used for everyone with COVID in the hospital, we would not have enough.”

At Prisma Health Tuomey Hospital in Sumter, assistant nurse manager Natash Brayboy says demand for convalescent plasma is quickly outpacing supply.

“Convalescent plasma is one of the things that we give majority of our patients,” said Brayboy. “Lately, we haven’t had the availability like we did when we first started.”

Right now, The Blood Connection says it only has about a day’s supply of the treatment on hand.

“That’s a challenge that we face,” said Dr. Rainer. “Pretty much as soon as it comes in, we get the testing done, and we are releasing the product out to the hospitals.”

There’s a two-to-four-week delay in collecting the plasma because you can’t donate until at least 14 days after recovering from the virus. Also, not as many people are donating. Dr. Rainer says his team recently contacted recovered patients in the Upstate who had been hospitalized from the virus. Only 5 percent of them signed up to donate.

“We really do rely on people with new diagnoses to come in and take up the slack if you would,” Dr. Rainer explained. “It’s just always been a struggle to get people to kind of come in and donate blood, and it just continues. That’s kind of where we are.”

While the COVID-19 vaccines are an effective tool and have brought hope that the end of the pandemic is near, the FDA says you can no longer donate convalescent plasma after you the shot, which has made the need even more urgent.

After getting a COVID vaccine, you are still eligible to donate blood, and The Blood Connection strongly encourages you to do so because they are also facing a blood donation shortage.

If you think you may have had the virus at some point, but you don’t have documentation of a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, The Blood Connection is urging you to give blood, which includes COVID-19 antibody testing. Antibody test results will be posted within seven business days. If you are positive for the antibodies, you could be eligible to begin the process of donating convalescent plasma.

Convalescent plasma donors must be symptom-free for at least 14 days and bring proof of a positive COVID-19 test or positive COVID-19 antibody test in order to donate. As a ‘thank you’, convalescent plasma donors will receive The Blood Connection Reward Points, which can be redeemed for e-gift cards in the non-profit’s online store.

You can call 864-751-1168 to make an appointment to donate plasma at any TBC blood drive or at any TBC center in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Savannah, GA.

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