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Convalescent Plasma Donor

COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Donor Registry

The SANBS is exploring ways to use blood plasma for the treatment of COVID-19 patients locally. Following approval from our Human Research Ethics Committee, we will be starting phase 2 clinical trials on plasma donated by recovered patients for national clinical trials to test the safety and effectiveness of convalescent plasma for the possible treatment of COVID-19. This includes supplying convalescent plasma to physicians currently treating patients with the virus in the context of the clinical trial.

A convalescent plasma donation is like a standard plasma donation. The key difference is the need for a specific type of donor for this clinical trial.

To participate, donors need to meet South Africa’s current plasma donor eligibility criteria and must additionally:

  • Be between the ages of 18 and 65.
  • Weigh more than 55kg.
  • Have a previous positive diagnosis for COVID-19 by a laboratory test.
  • Have fully recovered from the virus and free of symptom for at least 28 days.
  • Have access to an SANBS donor centre.
  • Females who have been pregnant before are not eligible.

Donors who meet these requirements are encouraged to join our online registry. Contact Cynthia Nyoni 0825539042/0117619279 for more information.

What is convalescent plasma?

Convalescent plasma is plasma that is collected from patients who have recovered from a virus, which contains neutralising antibodies necessary to fight off a virus. These antibodies develop in the body’s plasma and remain there for some time – even after someone has fully recovered – to shield them from possible future infection from that virus. In theory, these antibodies could be the key ingredient for a treatment to help others with the same virus. The use of convalescent plasma to treat an illness is not a new concept in medicine. In fact, convalescent plasma was used as a treatment for patients during the 1918 influenza outbreak – also known as the Spanish flu.

Is the collection of convalescent plasma safe?

We have the expertise and the infrastructure necessary to safely collect, prepare and distribute convalescent plasma for use in a national clinical trial. To ensure safety during the pandemic, we will only collect convalescent plasma from donors who have fully recovered from the COVID-19 virus. To ensure transfusion medicine safety, convalescent plasma donors must also meet South Africa’s current plasma donor eligibility criteria. We will continue abiding by the Departments of Health’s recommendation to protect all employees, volunteers and donors.

When will the clinical trial begin?

Starting on 4 May 2020, we will begin taking appointments from volunteers who wish to book appointments to donate convalescent plasma.

What does the SANBS hope to achieve with the clinical trial?

Currently, there is not enough scientific evidence to prove whether COVID-19 convalescent plasma is a safe and effective treatment for patients with the virus. Well-designed clinical trials will help provide the information necessary to prove whether convalescent plasma is a safe and effective treatment. The results from the clinical trial will inform future decisions on the wider availability of convalescent plasma. It will be an important contribution to research on a global scale that could help patients in South Africa and around the world.

If it works, will the SANBS collect convalescent plasma in the long term?

At this time, it is too early to say what could happen or what our role may be longer term. The clinical trial needs to be completed first, so we have evidence that this therapy actually works. Internationally, researchers are investigating other available options or trying to develop new ones to treat, prevent or cure COVID-19.

I am already a plasma donor. Can I participate in the trial?

Thank you! Your donations are helping patients in South Arica who need plasma products. We will only be collecting plasma from donors who have fully recovered form COVID-19. Only those who may be eligible to donate convalescent plasma will be contacted. Your donations matter. If you are not contacted to participate in this trial, we urge you to continue participating in our national plasma donation programme as the need for blood and plasma is constant.

Can someone who hasn’t had COVID-19 still donate?

Not for this clinical trial.

Why does a convalescent plasma donor need to be symptom free for 28 days?

Recent guidelines and international best practice recommend that people who are symptom free for 28 days do not require additional virus testing before donating. In addition, early international research suggests that COVID-19 convalescent plasma donors provided higher levels of antibodies for the virus after 28 days of being symptom free than they did at 14 days because their immune systems had enough time to transition from the stage of infection to a steady state of good health.

How is the SANBS determining that a convalescent plasma donor is fully recovered?

Every convalescent plasma donor will be pre-screened by telephone to determine their eligibility before their appointment to donate is booked. To donate, a COVID-19 plasma donor must be symptom free for at least 28 days. This aligns with recent NICD guidelines on the collection of COVID-19 convalescent plasma. Also, early evidence shows that COVID-19 convalescent plasma donors yield higher levels of antibodies for the virus after 28 days. As information about the virus is evolving rapidly, we closely monitor international developments to make sure our processes and eligibility criteria align with the best evidence available to protect employees, donors and volunteers.

My doctor says convalescent plasma is not available to treat patients with COVID-19 in South Africa. Will it be available and, if so, when?

Your doctor is correct, convalescent plasma is not currently available in South Africa. This is because there is insufficient scientific evidence to prove whether COVID-19 convalescent plasma is a successful treatment for patients with the virus. This is why the SANBS will only start supplying convalescent plasma within the context of a national clinical trial as a possible treatment option. The SANBS will be responsible for supplying convalescent plasma to physicians who will be able to use the convalescent plasma for patients who are enrolled in the clinical trial.

How will patients be involved in the trial?

Patient participation in the national clinical trial will be determined by the treating physician in consultation with the patient and according to the clinical trial protocol.

Why is convalescent plasma not already available in South Africa to treat patients with COVID-19 who need it?

A well-designed clinical trial, like the one we are developing with our partners, takes time to properly plan, authorise and implement. It is important that we ensure the national clinical trial will help to provide the information necessary to prove whether convalescent plasma is a safe and effective treatment for patients. The results from the clinical trial will inform future decisions on the wider availability of convalescent plasma. 

My family member has COVID-19 and is in intensive care. How do we get access to convalescent plasma for them now?

We sympathise with your situation and understand that this is an urgent matter. Currently, there is not enough data to prove whether COVID-19 convalescent plasma is a successful treatment for patients with the virus, which is why it will initially only be supplied in the context of the clinical trial.

It is also important to note that while the evidence on COVID-19 convalescent plasma is currently mixed, early international data suggests that this therapy could be more harmful to patients who are critically ill. Only patients with moderate to mild cases of infection will be eligible for the clinical trial.

The clinical trial will further determine if convalescent plasma is a safe and effective treatment option and how it should be used in patient care.

How will the SANBS supply convalescent plasma to physicians for the purpose of the clinical trial?

We will inform participating hospitals when COVID-19 convalescent plasma is available for treating patients and how physicians will be able to access it. We are working with our hospital partners and will leverage our existing network and procedures for distributing blood and blood products to supply convalescent plasma to hospitals.