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Demand for Plasma, a COVID-19 Treatment Option, Skyrockets as Hospitalizations Increase in Texas

Publication: KXAN-TV (NBC, Austin)
07/06/2020

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Austin metro area increased from 80 a month ago to 466 on Monday.

With that, the need for convalescent plasma has skyrocketed as well.

“Unfortunately, over the last three weeks, because of the rapid rise in hospital rates that we’ve seen, we’ve gone through our supply fairly quickly,” said Dr. Jeff Yorio, Medical Oncologist and Hematologist at Texas Oncology and Chief of Hematology and Oncology at Seton Medical Center.

This is a problem nationwide.

“We were having probably maybe two to three requests per day through April, May, June. And then about midway through June, the requests went to about 10 to 12 per day,” explained Dr. Meredith Reyes, Associate Professor at Baylor College of Medicine.

She added, “This is not just for Houston. This is not just for Austin. This is not just for Texas.”

Dr. Yorio told KXAN that patients who receive plasma “have at least some sickness, things like hypoxia, so requiring oxygen. That’s typically the minimal requirement, that they have to be requiring oxygen.”

He said doctors also use remdesivir to help treat COVID-19 patients. For that drug, he said, “they tend to be patients who are a little sicker and who have had, you know, symptoms within a short amount of time of when they’ve been hospitalized.”

More recently, a clinical trial has led to doctors using a steroid called Dexamethasone, and in some cases, Yorio said prophylactic anticoagulation or prophylactic blood thinners are used as well.

He explained patients can receive just one type of treatment or a combination of multiple different types.

Still, plasma plays an important role.

“It does seem to be kind of one of the first line therapies, and we feel that it is more beneficial the earlier it is given in disease,” Reyes said.

Need for donations
The supply of plasma depends on donors who meet the criteria.

We Are Blood told KXAN it has provided COVID-19 convalescent plasma to over 480 COVID-19 patients in Central Texas. They said the number of requests from physicians and hospitals for COVID-19 convalescent plasma has more than doubled recently.

“I’ve done it twice already. Going back for my third next week,” said Matt Briggs, who had COVID-19 in March.

“I think I was in the first 40 cases here in the Austin area,” he said.

Briggs told KXAN he started showing symptoms when he returned from a business trip in early March. When he recovered, he learned his plasma with antibodies can help save lives.

“She said that there were three people that were lined up [for] B type blood, and there were three people that needed my plasma today,” Briggs explained.

He said while donating plasma does take longer than donating blood — more than an hour compared to 15 to 20 minutes, “It’s worth it to take an hour, an hour and a half out of your day and try to save somebody’s life potentially.”

According to We Are Blood:

“To qualify as a convalescent plasma donor you must have had a prior lab-confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19, have experienced no COVID-19 symptoms for at least 14-28 days, and meet standard donor eligibility criteria.”

If you recovered from COVID-19 and would like to donate, you can fill out the screening form here.

Click here to watch the full story.

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