What is a plasma transplant and how does it help a person with COVID-19 recover?
Blood from a patient who has recovered from COVID-19 can be a rich source of antibodies, which are proteins made by the immune system to attack the virus. To understand what an antibody is, you must understand what an antigen is. An antigen is a harmful substance that might enter the body and the job of your immune system is to recognize the harmful substance and fight back. Once the body recognizes the harmful substance, it makes soldiers (antibodies) that are specific to fighting off that antigen. The antibodies will then destroy the foreign invaders (antigens) and defend the body. The antibodies can be found in our plasma which is a component of our blood. Doctors have been giving blood transfusions for decades now and it has been used in the past for Ebola and influenza treatments.
When you make your own antibodies, that is called active immunity towards that disease since your body was able to recognize it and knows very well how to ACTIVELY fight it. But when you give someone antibodies through a plasma transplant, it’s called passive immunity since their own body did not make it. Another example of passive immunity is when a mother breastfeeds her child, the child will receive antibodies through the breastmilk. The downside to passive immunity is that this treatment option is only a temporary solution since the antibodies given to the patient in the plasma will be cleared out in a few weeks to months. And this is the same case with a newborn baby that was breastfed, the mother’s antibodies will only be around for a certain time after she stops breastfeeding. A long term solution to COVID-19 would be a vaccine or an antiviral drug.
Who can donate the plasma?
The donors will include people who tested positive for the virus and fully recovered with no symptoms for the last 14 days. The donor’s plasma will be tested to see if they have high levels of antibodies that fought off the virus. There are many hospitals that are looking for donors and your donation can save a life. If you are interested in becoming a donor, you can visit www.ccpp19.org to see if you are eligible.
If I donate plasma will it diminish my own resistance amongst the virus?
No, only a small amount of your antibodies will be removed (around 20%). And you will have plenty of antibodies left in your blood to fight off COVID-19 if you did come into contact with it again.