Independent U.S. blood centers lead way in convalescent plasma donations

Members of Americas Blood Centers, including the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, aim to double the number of doses available in August
July 31, 2020

Blood centers across the United States, including the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, have committed to doubling the number of convalescent plasma doses given to COVID-19 patients next month.

The announcement came during a convalescent plasma roundtable hosted by the White House. The event was described as a “national call to action” to encourage donation by Americans who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies that can help current patients fight the virus.  

Members of America’s Blood Centers, including the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, collect more than 60% of the nation’s blood donations. They have provided 100,000 of the 124,000 doses of convalescent plasma transfused since the program began this spring.

“We’re not slowing down in any kind of way – indeed, we’re mobilizing to do even more,” said Kate Fry, Chief Executive Officer of America’s Blood Centers.

“We are projecting we will double our current number of doses by the end of August.”

The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center, a subsidiary of San Antonio nonprofit BioBridge Global, has provided more than 4,400 of those doses and has a goal of collecting from 75 donors a day by the end of August.

That would translate to about 260 doses a day, since an average donor can provide approximately three to five doses of plasma per donation.

The roundtable, which was moderated by President Donald Trump, included leaders from industry and the government working to boost convalescent plasma donations. A recording of the session is available at https://youtu.be/SxG-X15xLGk

“We’re here to encourage more and more people to see (plasma donation) as something important and practical they can do during this global pandemic,” said Francis Collins, Director, National Institutes of Health.

Convalescent plasma has been called a bridge therapy – one that appears to be helping multiple patients – until an effective vaccine is approved.

The South Texas Blood & Tissue Center is the only organization in this area collecting convalescent plasma that can be transfused directly to patients with COVID-19.

Potential donors can find out more by visiting SouthTexasBlood.org or emailing COVID19@SouthTexasBlood.org. All donors must contact the center and be screened for COVID-19 antibody levels and symptoms before donating.

STBTC is taking donations by appointment only at the Donor Pavilion in San Antonio and its donor room in Victoria.

“With the widespread usage of convalescent plasma, it is a safe therapy for those with COVID-19 and it shows promise in helping patients,” said Dr. Samantha Gomez Ngamsuntikul, Associate Medical Director at the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. “It is essentially a bridge between getting a vaccine or some other therapy.”

The community blood center and local hospitals are part of a study led by the Mayo Clinic into the effectiveness of the therapy. Antibodies to COVID-19 in the plasma may provide passive immunity to certain patients with severe forms of the illness.

The concept of using plasma from recovered patients is not new. The first Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded in 1901 to a German physician for his work in developing what was known then as “antiserum.” In 1934, a physician at a boys school outside Pennsylvania used plasma from a recovered patient to keep all the students from coming down with the measles.

Plasma from recovered patients has been used more recently to treat patients with Ebola and SARS.