Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital and the Cottage Health Research Institute have begun to use blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients to treat other patients still struggling against the disease. Five patients have been treated so far, and Cottage has teamed up with blood service provider Vitalant to accept donations from donors to harvest the antibodies they formed to fight against COVID-19.
The first patient in Santa Barbara received a transfusion with the convalescent plasma just this past Monday. The procedure was tolerated well by all five patients, said Dr. Lynn Fitzgibbons, who heads up infectious disease for Cottage, but it’s too soon to talk with any certainty about the recovery of these seriously ill patients. “We have good reason to believe there will be a benefit,” Fitzgibbons said, judging by the successful use of the same therapy with diseases like West Nile, influenza, and SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).
Like COVID-19, no vaccine or cure exists for West Nile or SARS. Convalescent plasma showed promise in an early study of 10 patients in China with COVID-19: Seven showed no virus in their system within days of the transfusion. All 10 improved and were headed for discharge from the hospital when the study ended on February 19. In a control group formed of 10 similar patients, one improved, six were stable, and three died.
“With this treatment,” said Dr. Fitzgibbons, “we hope to harness the wisdom of the immune system from those who have successfully beaten this disease and use this wisdom, in the form of antibodies, to help the next patient suffering from this infection.”
According to Public Health, the county has 257 positively tested individuals who have recovered from the virus as of April 23. To meet the criteria for the convalescent plasma, donors must be symptom-free for 14 days, have a diagnosis documented by a lab test, and qualify for other FDA donor eligibility requirements. Donors must go through Vitalant — not walk into Cottage — by filling out a form at vitalant.org/covidfree and awaiting a reply, or by calling (866) 287-5762.