Is Trump’s new suggestion to use convalescent plasma to fight COVID a good idea?
- As of August 24, there have been 5.7 million coronavirus cases with 176,223 deaths in the United States.
- On Sunday, the FDA issued an emergency authorization for doctors to treat Covid-19 using blood plasma from recovered patients.
- Plasma is the liquid portion of blood. Over half of our blood is plasma, and the remaining 45% are red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
- Plasma is used to treat trauma, burn and shock patients, as well as people with severe liver disease or multiple clotting factor deficiencies.
- Scientists and public health officials have doubts about the effectiveness of plasma treatments, stating the need for controlled studies to know whether it is safe. According to WHO, results from trials have not been conclusive, were relatively small, and have provided “very low-quality evidence.”
President Trump's encouragement of convalescent plasma therapy has sparked controversy over safety and effectiveness. Convalescent Plasma is a term used to describe the blood plasma removed from a recovered person and transfused into someone currently battling the same illness. Though the safety of this method has been questioned as it relates to COVID-19, a Mayo Clinic study of over 20,000 people has attested to its overall safety. Additionally, the therapy was first utilized in the United States in 1916 and had even more medicinal use during the Spanish Influenza. The success of the drug and lack of risk involved with it leads to promise in the medical community as the coronavirus continues to devastate the world. As it pertains to the effectiveness and success of using convalescent plasma to fight COVID-19, a further study by the Mayo Clinic revealed that those who underwent the treatment had a seven-day death rate of 8.7% compared to the 12% of the untreated population. Plasma from humans lasts up to a year when frozen, increasing the accessibility Americans would have to it. This is promising news as the U.S. anticipates to endure a second wave of the virus in the fall/winter.
Considering the safety of convalescent plasma, Trump's decision to publicly support the treatment displays strong leadership in a time of despair and uncertainty. In a situation where there isn't much to lose, the decision to give convalescent plasma therapy a chance is wise.
President Trump's claim that convalescent plasma is 'proven' to reduce mortality by 35% when battling COVID-19 is utterly premature. Dr. Thomas File, president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, explained that while he supports continued trials of the plasma, the ISDA lacks substantial trial data to determine whether it can be used effectively and safely on COVID patients. Duncan Young, from the University of Oxford's medicine department, expressed his biggest concern in implementing plasma therapy is how 'we will not know if it works.' Yet, clinicians may be required to use it in treating the virus, which can also lead to a shortage in the treatment.
The program's website even states it is too early to be entirely assured the convalescent plasma will not have any harmful effects, or if it will have any impact in treating the virus at all. Possible reactions to plasma transfusion include the development of transfusion-associated acute lung injury, excess circulatory overload, and several allergic reactions. For a treatment method that has not been thoroughly tested, convalescent plasma transfusion can present seriously threatening health outcomes if a patient's immune system reacts poorly.
It appears as if Trump is rapidly searching for a treatment he can promote to make it appear as if he has the situation under control after his misguided claims about hydroxychloroquine's benefits in treating the virus. Peter Lurie, a former FDA official, declared he was 'absolutely incredulous' with Trump's claim. Meanwhile, former FDA commissioner, Robert Califf, suggested the current FDA commissioner publish a correction to his statements about the treatment method.