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20 April 2020

Covid-19: Convalescent plasma donation

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The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) is initiating the collection of plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 from this week.

SNBTS will be collecting blood from people who have tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19 once they have recovered and at least 28 days have passed since their symptoms have disappeared.

Professor Marc Turner, Medical Director of SNBTS, explained:

'When someone recovers from Covid-19, they develop antibodies to fight the virus that causes the illness – SARS-CoV-2. These antibodies can be found in the recovered person’s plasma and should make them immune to future infections of this virus for a period of time.

'Recent reports suggest that some patients who are ill with Covid-19 may benefit from a transfusion of plasma manufactured from blood given by eligible donors who have recovered from Covid-19. However, further work and research would need to be carried out to find out how effective this would be.

'At this time, people who think that they have had Covid-19 but have not been tested cannot donate for this purpose as we have no way to confirm their infection. If that changes we will issue further advice. Existing blood donors who have recovered can donate as normal once well.'

The wellbeing of our donors, recipients and staff is our main priority and we recognise that not everyone who recovers from Covid-19 will be able to donate. As usual, our donor eligibility criteria apply to make sure that that giving blood is safe for both the donor and patient. During the Coronavirus Pandemic we have taken great care to minimise any risk and introduced measures that follow all necessary social distancing and health and safety precautions.

What is Convalescent Plasma?

Some people who have had Covid-19 and recovered have developed special antibodies in their blood plasma (the straw coloured liquid which surrounds the red blood cells). This is known as Convalescent Plasma, and may help fight off the virus if donated to very ill Covid-19 patients with severe lung disease.

What are antibodies?

Antibodies are Y-shaped molecules that are made by your immune system to help fight diseases such as colds and flu and other infections. Normally, you produce these molecules 2-3 weeks after getting an infection.

Why do antibodies from my blood help?

If you have recovered from Covid 19 and are immune, your antibodies can act like a gift of immunity to patients who are ill and help their fight their infection. This is known as ‘passive immunisation’ and has been used in the past to treat other infections such as flu, diphtheria and Ebola.

Is Convalescent Plasma proved to work?

Doctors in other countries have reported that a few very ill Covid-19 patients have probably benefited from treatment with Convalescent Plasma. Convalescent Plasma collected by the UK blood services will be used in clinical trial to try and see if it can be used to treat Covid-19.

Who can donate Convalescent Plasma?

At the moment, only donors aged 17-65 who have tested positive for Covid-19 and have been symptom free for 28 days, and meet our usual eligibility criteria, are able to donate Convalescent Plasma. We are currently unable to take Convalescent Plasma from donors who have had suspected Covid-19 but were not tested.

How do SNBTS know who to get in touch with?

Public Health Scotland hold records of people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and subsequently recovered. We have permission to use these records to contact potential donors. In the next few weeks we will be getting in touch by letter to ask some of these people to contact us if they would like to become Convalescent Plasma donors.

If you get in touch with me, what do I do?

If we contact you and you would like to donate Convalescent Plasma, reply to us using the contact details on the letter and we will arrange a time for you to come and make a donation.

Will I definitely be able to give Convalescent Plasma?

No, the usual eligibility criteria still apply - if your haemoglobin is too low, for example, you won't be able to donate, or if you've recently had a tattoo, or if you take certain types of medications etc. Best thing to do I have a look at our 'Can I donate? page for an overview.

What actually happens when you donate Convalescent Plasma?

There are two methods of donating Convalescent Plasma: through whole blood donation and through plasma donation. At the moment, we are only taking Convalescent Plasma through whole blood donation, which means that as a donor, you give a completely normal blood donation, but it is processed differently behind the scenes. This also means your red blood cells can be used separately, and you will be able to give blood again in three months’ time. However, in the future, we are also planning to take plasma-only donations. These use different machines, which separate your plasma and your red blood cells as you donate, and yield a greater amount of plasma.

How long does it take?

Donating Convalescent Plasma by whole blood takes the same amount of time as a normal blood donation, around 1hr in total including screening, haemoglobin testing and actual donation. Giving Convalescent Plasma by plasmapheresis (when a special machine is used to separate plasma as you donate) takes longer, around 90 minutes in total.

Would I need to take any extra blood tests or fill out extra forms?

Female Convalescent Plasma donors may have to give an extra blood sample, but all other additional tests will be able to come directly from the pouch. There will also be an extra Convalescent Plasma consent form.

If I come to donate Convalescent Plasma, will everyone know I’ve had Covid-19?

No - your medical records are private, and will be treated in confidence in exactly the same way as they are any time you come to give blood. As far as other donors are concerned, you will simply be another blood donor.

Do I have to donate?

No - Convalescent Plasma donation is an entirely voluntary procedure and it is your choice whether you donate or not.

What if I change my mind or something changes and I am no longer eligible/able to donate blood?

That's absolutely fine, just let us know and we will cancel or rearrange your appointment.

Can I still continue with my whole blood donations while donating plasma?

If you're donating Convalescent Plasma through whole blood donation, you are still donating your red blood cells, and these will be used to save or improve patient's lives. If you're donating Convalescent Plasma by plasmapheresis, you will be unable to donate whole blood at the same time.

Can I give Convalescent Plasma at a community session?

No. Donating Convalescent Plasma involves some additional tests, processes and specific staff training (and a different machine, if you are donating plasma-only). This is more easily managed centrally at our donor centres.

I think I've had Covid-19, but I wasn't actually tested - can I donate Convalescent Plasma?

No, not at the moment. We are currently only taking Convalescent Plasma donations from donors who have had a positive COVID 19 test result.

I’ve had Covid-19 and I did test positive - can I donate Convalescent Plasma?

At the moment we are only taking Convalescent Plasma from donors that we get in touch with. However, if you think you meet the other criteria and would like to help in the future, please phone us on 0345 90 90 999, or email nss.snbtsenquiry@nhs.net

Current blood stock levels across Scotland Sunday 31 May

We aim to retain 6 days of stocks at any time in order to meet the requirements of patients in Scotland.

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