Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus three months ago, we’ve admired the tireless, courageous efforts by healthcare workers battling COVID-19 at the front lines. Similar recognition goes to those who risk exposure by continuing to provide essential services in close proximity to strangers.
Others have been performing similar heroic duty behind the scenes, and their grassroots efforts have led to a viable treatment strategy that could save lives and lessen the medical burden of this pandemic. A select corps of immunologists and laboratory scientists have created a national network of laboratories under the banner The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project (CCP). They are harnessing the power of human immunity to treat those who have become infected.
For starters, let’s go back to high school. Plasma is the liquid part of blood, that is, blood without any cells. It’s a yellowish fluid filled with water, nutrients, hormones, and proteins. Many of those proteins are immunoglobulins that bind to substances the body perceives as a threat, natural or manmade. Once bound to their select target, immunoglobulins trigger a powerful cascade of cellular reactions that eliminate the unwanted visitors. Poison ivy sap molecules and microorganisms are good examples. Now add novel coronavirus to the list. Anyone with a healthy immune system who is infected with the virus causing COVID-19 will generate a flood of immunoglobulins that will allow the body to clear itself of the virus.
Published research has demonstrated that by 15 days, nearly everyone exposed to the novel coronavirus develops immunoglobulins. Unfortunately, those who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness (viral pneumonia) have neither the time nor the biologic capacity to mount such a vigorous response.
Why not administer plasma loaded with anti-COVID immunoglobulins to those unable to make their own? The CCP is doing exactly that. They have already started collecting plasma from recovered COVID-19 individuals, and are providing it to patients in need. Just days ago, the Food & Drug Administration authorized the use of emergency treatment protocols involving plasma infusions that are now in effect in New York City, where the greatest number of active COVID-19 cases reside.
This approach is based on earlier success in previous global outbreaks, going as far back as the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, when blood transfusions were performed adhering to similar theories. Fast forward to the 21st century, where the use of convalescent plasma reduced SARS mortality by 75%.
Specifics for FDA-approved treatment protocols are rapidly evolving, but eligible patients would receive between 10-20 ounces of convalescent plasma through an intravenous infusion. Since other blood products have already been removed, there is far less risk of transfusion-related complications. The primary goal of convalescent plasma infusion is to prevent or reduce the need for respiratory support caused by severe viral pneumonia and to improve overall outcomes. That means lowering the surging demand for mechanical ventilators and ICU beds while significantly boosting COVID-19 survival.
Zhao J, Yuan Q, Wang H, et al. Antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 in patients of novel coronavirus disease 2019. Accessed 03/29/2020 online medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.02.20030189v1
National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. Accessed 03/29/2020 online ccpp.org/index.html
Mair-Jenkins J, Saaveda-Campos M, Baillie J, et al. Journal of Infectious Diseases 2015; 211:80-90
Doctor Lloyd is a licensed physician and a board-certified surgeon and pathologist. As Health Director for Transamerica Advanced Markets, he provides valuable medical expertise for Transamerica’s Wealth+HealthSM thought leadership initiative.
Transamerica Resources, Inc. is an Aegon company and is affiliated with various companies which include, but are not limited to, insurance companies and broker dealers. Transamerica Resources, Inc. does not offer insurance products or securities. The information provided is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical, insurance, securities, tax, legal or financial advice or guidance. Please consult your personal independent advisors for answers to your specific questions.