New Mayo Clinic Research Indicates Plasma Transfusions Are Safe Treatment For COVID-19

Jun 19, 2020
Originally published on June 19, 2020 1:05 pm

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic have transfused thousands of COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma, and the results show it is a safe method for treating the disease. 

“This is critically important for COVID-19, but it’s also critically important for science in general because it hasn’t been shown before for other infections,” said Dr. DeLisa Fairweather, the Director of Translational Research at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. 

According to the FDA, convalescent plasma is part of the blood collected from patients who have already recovered from COVID-19. As the body fights off coronavirus, it develops antibodies. The transfusion takes those antibodies and inserts them into a person to help the patient recover more quickly. 

In their investigation, the researchers transfused 20,000 hospitalized patients with the convalescent plasma from April 3 to June 11. The patients who were transfused were considered at high risk to enter a severe or life-threatening condition.

Of the first 5,000 who were transfused with convalescent plasma, the seven-day mortality rate decreased from 12% to 8.6%, and serious negative effects from the transfusion were less than 1%. 

Related: Coronavirus Q & A, including list of testing sites

In the study, the researchers outlined how important it was to get a diverse group of patients. Forty percent of those transfused were women, 20% were African American, 35% were Hispanic, and 5% were Asian. Fairweather said they transfused patients in every state.

Despite the trending data, the authors of the study made it clear that this alone does not determine whether convalescent plasma is effective to combat COVID-19. 

The next step for researchers is determining the efficacy of the treatment. Fairweather said there is room for optimism considering some of the initial findings from the first study.

“Testing the 20,000 patients started on April 7, and goes through June 11, and in the beginning of that time, there was a mortality rate of 15% in the first week,” Fairweather said. “It went down to 5% in week seven. And this drop in mortality suggests that there's been a benefit or an improvement over time.”

Convalescent plasma therapy is inexpensive compared to other medications used to fight COVID-19, according to Fairweather. 

She said the data also suggests that the earlier the plasma is given after hospitalization, the more effective it is. 

The study indicates that different factors, including less critically ill patients later in the process could lead to a decreased mortality rate, as hospitals discovered how to better treat patients through the months. The study found there was also an increase in the amount of donors who were giving plasma. 

This method is currently the only antibody-based therapy for COVID-19.  

Fairweather said this is a huge development for the scientific community, and its impact will go beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The next time we have any kind of infectious disease, we know we should be able to really be able to treat with convalescent plasma safely,” Fairweather said. “It really opens the door for being able to give treatment safely for the United States, but then also for everyone in the world.”

People who are interested in giving their plasma can contact the Blood Centers of America to find a nearby location. 

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.

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