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18 September 2020

Find out more about Convalescent Plasma donation

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If you have recovered from Covid-19, your plasma may contain antibodies which can be used to help others.

Plasma donated by a recovered patient is called Convalescent Plasma. If you are now fit and feeling well, we would like to ask if you might be able to donate some of your plasma to treat patients who are still very ill with Covid-19.

Time is of the essence because Covid-19 antibodies reduce rapidly after four months. If you can donate, please do so sooner rather than later. Lynne Willdigg, Associate Director SNBTS

What is Convalescent Plasma?

Scientific evidence has shown that transfusing patients with plasma from people who have recovered from Covid-19 can reduce the mortality rate by up to a half, shorten the illness and make it less severe. This is because recovered patients' plasma may contain antibodies to Covid-19. Doctors in the UK are currently using Convalescent Plasma in clinical trials to treat Covid-19 patients.

As you may have developed antibodies to Covid-19, we are asking you to consider donation so we at SNBTS can make Covid-19 Convalescent Plasma, which will be used in clinical trials to treat sick patients.

However, time is of the essence. These antibodies reduce rapidly after four months, so it’s critical to get in touch sooner rather than later.

Who can donate Convalescent Plasma?

You are likely to be eligible to donate Convalescent Plasma if you:

  • are aged 17-65 and have never given blood before (or aged 17-69 and a regular blood donor)

  • have tested positive for Covid-19 OR are untested but have self-isolated because of Covid-19 symptoms (eg, a high temperature or fever, a new continuous cough, or a loss of sense of smell or taste) within the last four months

  • have been symptom-free for 28 days and now feel fit and well and have returned to normal activities

  • meet our usual eligibility criteria (which are put in place to make sure both donors and patients remain safe) 

Donors who have not tested positive are likely to include healthcare professionals, and those who suffered similar symptoms to household members who have previously tested positive. 

Are there any other treatments for Covid-19?

No, there are currently no specific licensed treatments for Covid-19. However, doctors in other countries have reported that some Covid-19 patients have benefited when treated with Convlescent Plasma (plasma from people who have already recovered from the illness).

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. Antibodies are highest in the first few weeks and months after infection.

What exactly is plasma?

Blood contains four main elements:

  • Red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body
  • White blood cells, which fight infection
  • Platelets, which help stop bleeding, and
  • Plasma, the straw coloured liquid that contains many components such as minerals, hormones and proteins, including antibodies that help fight infection.

The antibodies created in plasma is what is of most use when treating Covid-19.

How do I donate Convalescent Plasma?

Once you have recovered, at least 28 days have passed since your symptoms disappeared, and you have returned to normal activities, you may be able to help others affected by Covid-19 by donating your plasma.

There are two methods of donating Convalescent Plasma:

  • whole blood donation, and
  • plasma-only donation.

Tell me about whole blood donation

When you give Convalescent Plasma through whole blood, you as a donor give a normal blood donation, but it is processed differently behind the scenes. This means your red blood cells can also be used to help patients, and you will be able to give blood again in three months' time. Giving Convalescent Plasma by blood donation takes about an hour and makes two life enhancing treatments - one unit of Convalescent Plasma and one unit of red blood cells.

You can donate Convalescent Plasma by whole blood at both donor centres and community sessions.

Most people feel fine after donating blood - in fact, you're likely to feel pretty good about yourself. However, if you do feel faint, sore or ill, let us know. Before you go home, we will give you a cold drink and a snack and give you a card with our details so that you can contact us if you feel unwell after you have donated. Please avoid strenuous exercise, hazardous activities, prolonged standing or hot baths for the rest of the day, as these can make you feel faint. You can give blood every three months.

Find out more about what happens when you come to give blood, and reasons you might not be able to give blood at this time online. Alternatively, download our donor information leaflet.

Tell me about plasma-only donation

Plasma can also be donated directly using a process called plasmapheresis. This uses a machine which separates the four elements of blood but removes only the plasma, and returns the rest to the donor. Giving a plasma-only donation takes about 90 minutes from start to finish, and provides a greater amount of plasma (two units) than taking plasma from whole blood, and you may be asked to think about donating Convalescent Plasma in this way.

You can only donate by plasmapheresis at Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow blood donor centres.

Who will be asked to give Convalescent Plasma by plasmapheresis?

Donors who have the highest levels of antibodies to Covid-19 will be more likely to be asked to give by plasmapheresis. It is also more likely that we will invite male donors to donate by this method, as they tend to higher blood volumes than females and often have bigger veins. If your antibody levels to Covid-19 are particularly high, we might ask you to come back as regularly as you can manage for a couple of months.

Is there anything I should do to prepare to donate?

Make sure you've had plenty to drink before coming to give Convalescent Plasma. Avoid drinks such as coffee, tea or alcohol as they can dehydrate you.

We’ll also give you 500ml of water to drink when you arrive. This might seem a lot, but we know it will make you less likely to feel faint. Keeping hydrated is the best way to avoid fainting.

Don't donate on an empty stomach - make sure you've eaten well before you come. However, avoid fatty, oily or greasy meals as these can affect the quality of your plasma.

What tests will you do on my blood?

All donations are tested for blood type, and for infection with Hepatitis B, C, and E; HIV; HTLV; and Syphilis. We may also test some donations for West Nile Virus, and some donors for malaria. In addition to our standard tests, we will also test to:

  • make sure you do not currently have any active Covid-19 virus in your system
  • measure your current Covid-19 antibody levels.
  • look for antibodies to white blood cells in female Convalescent Plasma donors, which may cause transfusion reactions in patients. These are more common in women who have been pregnant in the past, and may mean we need to take blood samples from your other arm.

Do you have a test for Covid-19 antibodies?

Yes. We now have tests that tell us if you have Covid-19 antibodies and what your antibody levels are. These tests will allow us to decide which convalescent plasma donations can be used in clinical trials and which donations may be suitable for other plasma based treatments that are being developed.

Will I get my antibody results?

We will contact all convalescent plasma donors by letter to thank you for your donation and inform you if your plasma contains antibodies to Covid-19. We may contact you by phone first to invite you to donate by plasmapheresis, if you have particularly high antibody levels.

What happens to my donation?

If you have donated whole blood, the donation will be returned to our laboratory to be tested and made into a unit of red cells and a unit of Convalescent Plasma. The unit of plasma will be frozen until it is used. Around 300ml of plasma (just over half a pint) can be collected this way.

If you have donated by plasmapheresis, the donation is returned to the laboratory to be tested and made into two units of Convalescent Plasma. The two units of plasma will be frozen until it is used, and can be stored for up to three years. Around 600 ml of plasma (just over a pint) can be collected this way.

Do I have to donate?

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

Where can I donate?

You can donate Convalescent Plasma through blood donation at one of our donor centres or at your local community session.

Plasmapheresis can only take place at Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow donor centres.

Irrespective of location, you can only give Convalescent Plasma by appointment, and you need to telephone to make that appointment. When you phone, state that you want to give Convalescent Plasma, and you will be put through to a member of our nursing team who will ask you a number of questions to make sure you are eligible before making your appointment.

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. Have a look at our Can I give blood? pages for an overview.

When you attend your donation session, we will review your health and do a fingerprick test to check your haemoglobin level on the day you come to donate. If you no longer meet the eligibility criteria on the day of donation, we will try to take steps to rearrange your appointment to give you the chance to donate.

I believe I meet the criteria and I’d like to become a Convalescent Plasma donor. How can I arrange this?

Simply contact us on 0345 90 90 999 and let us know you have recovered from Covid-19 and are interested in donating Convalescent Plasma. Convalescent Plasma donation appointments must be made by phone (and cannot be made using the online donor account).

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

That’s no problem. Please contact us on 0345 90 90 999 and we will cancel or rearrange your appointment. Please let us know if you do not want us to make any further contact and we will update our database accordingly. As most Convalescent Plasma we collect is intended for use in clinical trials, we will retain patient information provided by PHS for at least 15 years after completion or discontinuation of these trials.

Will the other donors 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 other time you come to give blood. As far as other donors are concerned, you will simply be another blood donor.

Will the person receiving my transfusion or the hospital team treating the patient be able to identify me?

No, all donations are anonymised. Neither the staff treating patients nor the patients themselves can identify the donor from the units of blood or plasma hung at the bedside.

You contacted me - how did you get my details?

If we have contacted you directly, it is because Public Health Scotland (formerly Health Protection Scotland) has contacted us (SNBTS, the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service) with information about a number of people including yourself, who have previously tested positive for Covid-19. We have been granted permission to access your contact details by the Public Benefit and Privacy Panel for Health and Social Care. The panel's members have reviewed and approved our application to access your data ensuring that it is in the general public's interests for us to have this data; we transfer and store your data securely and use it only for the purposes intended.

What will you do with my information?

As most Convalescent Plasma that we collect is intended for use in clinical trials, we will keep patient information provided by Public Health Scotland for at least 15 years after completion or discontinuation of these trials. NHS National Services Scotland controls information held by the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service. We collect, store and use your information in line with our Data Protection Policy.

Current blood stock levels across Scotland Tuesday 20 October

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

Learn more about blood types