Convalescent Plasma Reduced COVID-19 Deaths, Study Says

Carolyn Crist

January 15, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Blood transfusions from recovered COVID-19 patients that contained high antibody levels reduced the number of COVID-19 deaths among other hospitalized patients, according to a new study by Mayo Clinic.

If given early to patients with mild COVID-19, the treatments slowed the progression of disease, they wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"I think it behooves the medical community to continue to innovate and test therapies for treatment. Realistically, we're months away from having a substantial number of people vaccinated," R. Scott Wright, MD, coordinator of the Mayo Clinic's COVID-19 plasma therapy program, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Early in the pandemic, Mayo Clinic launched a nationwide program that linked hospitalized COVID-19 patients with donor plasma. The research team analyzed records for more than 3,000 patients to determine whether those who received blood with high levels of antibodies fared better than those who received blood with low antibody levels.

Overall, patients who received antibody-rich plasma had a 25% lower chance of dying within 30 days. In addition, patients who received plasma within three days of their COVID-19 diagnosis had a lower risk of death than those who received transfusions later.

Health outcomes were better for those who received plasma and didn't need to be placed on a ventilator. "Patients who were on ventilator did not see a benefit," Wright told the newspaper. "It was too late."

Hospitals should conserve their limited plasma supplies for patients who are most likely to benefit from a transfusion, Louis Katz, MD, the acting chief medical director of the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center in Iowa, wrote in an accompanying editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Uncontrolled compassionate use of convalescent plasma…should be discouraged, even though clinicians recognize how difficult it can be to 'just stand there' at the bedside of a patient in the ICU," he wrote.

At his center, Katz said, about a fifth of plasma donations contain high enough antibodies to provide the benefits seen in the Mayo Clinic study.

"Constraints on therapies for COVID-19 that are effective for limited patient populations are a powerful argument for continued consistent adherence to recommended nonpharmaceutical interventions and the rapid deployment and uptake of effective vaccines," he wrote.

Sources

New England Journal of Medicine, "Convalescent Plasma Antibody Levels and the Risk of Death from Covid-19."

Minneapolis Star Tribune, "Mayo validates COVID-19 plasma treatment as public seeks vaccine."

New England Journal of Medicine, "(A Little) Clarity on Convalescent Plasma for Covid-19."

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