UnityPoint Health – Jones Regional Medical Center (JRMC) is participating in investigative plasma treatment, according to a press release from the hospital. Donated plasma from healthy donors who have recovered from COVID-19 is being trialed in patients currently fighting the virus to determine its effectiveness. UnityPoint Health is partnering with select blood centers on this investigative treatment, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Dr. Angela Greif said throughout the pandemic, the staff at the JRMC have been in constant communication with the pulmonary specialists out at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids and with infectious disease experts within the UnityPoint system for treatment recommendations. St. Luke’s has been giving the treatment for the past few months.
The treatment was approved as part of Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA Aug. 23, which allows the use of COVID-19 convalescent plasma to be distributed and used by licensed health care providers to treat adult patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
“Typically, when the FDA approves different treatments, they require years of yearlong studies of randomized, controlled studies before they will approve it,” Greif said.
There will continue to be clinical trials to test the treatment, but the hospital has not been involved in any of those. Since getting FDA approval, the treatment has been used at the hospital and has become more widespread nationwide since receiving FDA approval.
The idea behind the treatment is to utilize antibodies in recovered people before ill patients can start creating them themselves.
“When people recover from COVID-19, their body makes anti-bodies to fight off the virus. When patients are very sick and hospitalized with COVID-19, they are given the plasma with these antibodies,” Greif said. “Especially when the plasma is given early…this can help people fight off the virus really before their body has the time to make their own antibodies.”
The treatment is only recommended to those that require hospitalization. It is only a one-time treatment that is administered through IV. In determining who is a candidate for the treatment, the hospital consults with the specialists and St. Luke’s. There are other treatments, like certain steroids for inflammation, and an antiviral that are also being used currently as treatments. They work with pulmonary specialists at St. Luke’s, who have access through the patient’s file through the UnityPoint system to determine what treatment is best for a given patient.
For patients that require intensive care treatment, they are being transferred to St. Luke’s.
The availability of the plasma is dependent on the plasma donor pool. According to Greif, the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center, where the hospital gets their blood and plasma from, currently has a critical need.
“There’s definitely a need for donors, whether or not they’ve had COVID,” Greif said.
For the plasma donation to work, it has to be compatible with the person’s blood type for treatment.
“The more people that we can have donate with convalescent plasma, the more likely that a patient that is ill in the hospital will have a blood type that will match,” Greif said.
Individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 are encouraged to contact their UnityPoint Clinic provider to see if they qualify to donate plasma. Those who believe they qualify to donate are encouraged to fill out the form on the Mississippi Valley Blood Center’s website.
Regardless of whatever new treatment may come along for the virus, the most important thing is for people to try to avoid contracting the virus altogether.
“We have to continue to be diligent about prevention of COVID. Preventing illness, masking, social distancing, I think that’s really the most important thing we can do to protect ourselves, protect other people,” Greif said. “Regardless of any of the treatments, I think the most important thing is to do the prevention.”