Your questions, answered
“What's happening with the plasma survivors are donating?” — Pamela, no location given
President Trump brought this topic into the spotlight Thursday when he urged people who have recovered from covid-19 to donate their blood and the potentially life-saving antibodies it may contain. But hospitals have been harvesting survivors' plasma since March, using it in a variety of promising treatments and experiments.
“People who recover from a coronavirus infection typically have virus-blocking antibodies circulating in their blood in the weeks after they recover,” Post science reporter Carolyn Y. Johnson wrote this week. “Those antibodies can be harvested in plasma donations and transfused to the next people who get sick, helping boost their immune systems.”
So far, about 50,000 people have received transfusions of convalescent plasma under a program sponsored by the federal government. Many of the patients were severely sick, and preliminary data suggests the treatment was safe and effective. But it hasn't yet been rigorously studied, and Johnson notes that the technique has had mixed results when used on other diseases, such as measles and Ebola.
Still, antibody treatments are an enticing tool in the fight against covid-19, and tests are underway to see whether survivors' plasma could be used in outpatient procedures, or even as a way to prevent people from catching the disease.
Which brings us to a related question from a reader considering donating:
“I tested positive for covid-19 and have fully recovered. Is it true that by donating blood plasma, my antibody levels will be lowered, thereby resulting in diminished personal protection against a second covid infection?” —Charles, no location given
No. Medical experts around the world agree that there's no risk in donating your antibodies. The relatively tiny amount extracted shouldn't make any difference to your immune system.
“The amount of antibodies removed from body are but a fraction of what a person has and the body continues to make additional supply,” Shmuel Shoham, at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told Johnson.
Keep in mind, however, that just because you've recovered from covid-19 doesn't necessarily mean you're protected from the disease. Some people produce more antibodies than others, and scientists are still studying how long any immunity lasts.