If you’ve recently recovered from COVID-19, Canadian scientists want your blood plasma.
Canadian Blood Services is seeking convalescent plasma donations from Manitobans for clinical trials, to test whether plasma donated by people who have recently recovered from COVID-19 is an effective treatment for those still suffering.
The body’s typical immune response is to make antibody molecules to fight off infection. People who have had COVID-19 and recovered have immune systems that have made such antibodies.
Health Canada has authorized Canadian Blood Services to collect plasma (essentially the liquid blood cells and platelets sit in) and provide it to physicians treating COVID-19 patients. There currently isn’t enough data to prove whether it is an effective treatment for COVID-19.
However, the goal is: "It fills that gap while the patient’s own immune system is starting to develop antibodies," said Dana Devine, chief scientist with Canadian Blood Services.
“We’re really looking for people who have been infected fairly recently, particularly in this second wave.” – Dana Devine, chief scientist with Canadian Blood Services
More than 2,000 Canadians have already registered to donate plasma, but Canadian Blood Services has a new challenge: many of those people contracted COVID-19 in the first wave, and have been recovered from COVID-19 for so long their antibody levels have dropped.
"We’re really looking for people who have been infected fairly recently, particularly in this second wave," Devine said.
This is where Manitoba has a role to play.
Because the province’s first wave was relatively mild, and the current one is harsh, Canadian Blood Services is ramping up its outreach to Manitobans (and much of Western Canada) in hopes of attracting new possible plasma donors.
"We’re trying to get the word out, because we’re not sure that people necessarily still remember that this is an opportunity if you’ve unfortunately been infected with COVID," Devine said.
University student Alma Thrift had volunteered as a blood donor ambassador with Canadian Blood Services in high school. When she contracted COVID-19 in March, she sought out what she could do to help — and learned about the convalescent plasma trials.
"We can only do so much to help people if we don’t have any of the research," Thrift said. "Right now, there’s so little that we know about the virus that there’s so little we can do.
"It’d be nice to know that in the future anyone who has it has more options, has a stronger fighting chance to get through it."
She filled out a questionnaire over the summer, waited to be contacted, and made a plasma donation Oct. 31. The feeling was "very different" even for the experienced blood donor.
The sensation of blood being removed from one arm, run through a machine that separates the plasma, and the other parts of the blood returned to your body was relaxing — and, more importantly, rewarding, she said.
"There’s a lot of challenge in having COVID, and that’s something you can’t fully understand until you’ve had it," Thrift said.
"The one silver lining, the one nice thing that can come out of having such a challenging experience (COVID-19) is that you can help somebody else that’s going through it. You can reach out that hand and pull somebody up who’s having a hard time."
If you were previously confirmed COVID-19 positive through a lab test, are under the age of 67, and have been symptom-free and recovered from the virus for at least 28 days, you can join Canadian Blood Services’ registry to donate plasma online.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.