The FDA also recently loosened blood donation regulations, including for men who have sex with men, in an effort to broaden eligibility to donate blood in the wake of COVID-19.
On March 24, the FDA issued an Emergency Investigational New Drug (EIND) authorizing hospitals to administer plasma with antibodies from COVID-19 survivors to current, critically ill COVID-19 patients. Dr. Julie Karp, the Director of Transfusion Medicine and Program Director of Blood Banking/Transfusion, says the blood banking community has responded by collecting these units as quickly as they can. She says the Blood Donor Center at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (TJUH) is planning on collecting the first units of convalescent plasma on April 13.
In addition to the donor needing to meet the current requirements for regular blood donation, there are additional qualifications for plasma donations, according to Dr. Karp. The individual has to be recovered from coronavirus for at least 14-28 days. If they’ve felt well for at least 14 days, they will need to do a nasopharyngeal swab again and the test must result in negative. Alternatively, the donor can wait until they’ve felt better for 28 days or more and forgo the swab test.
Right now, interested potential donors can call the Blood Donor Center to set up an appointment for plasma donation. Donors can go through a regular blood donation, where red blood cells and plasma is collected, or opt for a plasma only donation. “The machine for taking plasma specifically takes about 40 minutes,” says Dr. Karp. “You are also eligible to donate again in 28 days, rather than the 56 days you need to wait with regular blood donation.”
While Dr. Karp says that there is little data that support that convalescent plasma is an effective treatment option for coronavirus, there is still data that supports it could be. “The treatment guidelines for this virus are in constantly changing,” Dr. Karp explains, “When you have something that could potentially help patients, you want to use every resource you possibly can.”
It’s important to note that if you have not been affected by the virus, the need for regular blood donations is still strong. On April 2, the FDA announced that they changed the requirements for donating to expand the pool of potential donors. This includes loosened deferring for tattoos, travel to malaria-endemic areas and notably, men who have sex with men.
Now, men who have sex with men are able to donate blood if they abstain from sex for three months. This is a momentous moment for groups that have advocated for this change for years. While the FDA announced these requirements are to be immediately implemented, Dr. Karp asks for patience from interested potential donors. “When the FDA makes these changes, they typically give blood banking centers 12 to 18 months to implement,” she says. “We have to update our computer systems and change all of our paperwork to reflect all the changes. I could not be more excited to welcome these potential donors. We are aiming to have all systems in place to begin accepting them in our doors on May 1.”
The Blood Donor Center at TJUH is currently only accepting appointments in an effort to control the number of people in the center at a given time. Dr. Karp asks that if you can only get an appointment weeks from now to please keep it.
“We’ve seen a really amazing turnout for donors in the past couple weeks,” says Dr. Karp. “Our blood supply at Jefferson is really strong. I just hope that people continue to come back after those 56 days pass. We could be in a very different position a month from now.”
Interested in donating plasma as a coronavirus survivor? Click here to complete a survey to determine your eligibility.