A single plasma donation from a COVID-19 survivor could go to multiple patients. Donating plasma is similar to donating whole blood, except the red blood cells are separated out by a machine and returned to the donor. “We can do two to three people from one donor,” says Bruce Sachais, the chief medical officer at the New York Blood Center. But the majority of these interested donors will not be suitable for one reason or another: The criteria, set by the FDA, suggest that donors should have had no symptoms for at least 14 days. They should have had a lab test confirming COVID-19, which is hard to get now and was even harder to get when the donors would have first gotten sick, several weeks ago. And, as with normal blood donation, patients and donors have to be matched by blood type. Prowell, for example, is looking for someone who is A-positive or AB-positive for Papa Doc.
In addition to using plasma on a case-by-case basis for very ill patients, doctors are also planning to study convalescent-plasma therapy for COVID-19 more systematically. Soon, the New York Blood Center plans to send out plasma for clinical trials at several hospitals, such as Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic, and Montefiore Medical Center. To help find the right donors for the trials, Shmuel Shoham, an infectious-disease doctor who is involved in the Johns Hopkins trial, told me he leaned on a friend who is an organizer in the Orthodox Jewish community. Orthodox Jews in New York were at the center of an early coronavirus outbreak, which means those who have recovered could become donors right now.