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Colorado hospitals looking for plasma donors to fight COVID-19

The antibodies in recovered coronavirus patients' blood might be a tool to help critically ill patients.

DENVER, Colorado — The antibodies built up in the plasma of people who have recovered from COVID-19 may help the critically ill fight the virus. The Food and Drug Administration is allowing for transfusions despite a lack of clinical trials on the topic.

“It has, for some patients in the past, shown that it might have helped in previous outbreaks of virus infections like Ebola or previous SARS outbreaks,” said University of Colorado Hospital Infectious Disease Specialist Dr.  David Beckham, adding that it’s unclear how effective plasma transfusions will be against COVID-19. “There’s a lot we don’t know. In the donors themselves, everybody has different degrees or types of antibody responses.”

UCHealth has already given two patients a transfusion of plasma from donors who recovered from COVID-19. Beckham says those patients are still critically ill as of Tuesday evening.

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“Everyone’s kind of, at this point, holding our breath and hoping these treatments have helped,” he said.

UCHealth is not alone. Hospitals in a handful of states have started convalescent plasma donation programs for the pandemic. UCHealth received its donations from Children’s Hospital Colorado’s blood bank. Vitalant (formerly Bonfils) has also started accepting donations.

Donors must have previously tested positive and confirm results with a lab test. Donors also must be symptom-free for at least 14 days.

Beckham says UCHealth is developing a screening system and then referring potential donors to Vitalant. He says several other hospitals are ramping up their processes too. He hopes the involvement of other medical facilities can help get more data to study.

“We don't think that this is a cure-all. We think it definitely has promise,” Beckham said. “In the long-term we hope this provides us a quick therapy that may help some people while we get some other targeted therapies up and running. Like, anti-virals, vaccines, which take a lot longer to develop.”

To donate convalescent plasma to Children’s Hospital during the pandemic, call 720-777-3557 or send an email to convalescentplasma@childrenscolorado.org. To make an appointment with Vitalant go to https://www.vitalant.org/Home.aspx.

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