Blood plasma might be the weapon we’re missing to control COVID-19

What if there was a way to avoid the business shutdowns, long quarantines, and anxiety surrounding an exposure to or infection by COVID-19 before a vaccine becomes widespread?

My colleagues and I at Johns Hopkins University are working on two clinical trials to answer that question.We’re investigating if a blood plasma transfusion containing high levels of antibodies to COVID-19, given early in illness, reduces the severity of the disease or even prevents people from developing an infection entirely. For those at high-risk, we believe this treatment could cut hospitalizations by half and prevent deaths. For those with milder cases, we believe that antibody-rich plasma would speed up recovery time and reduce the spread of the virus. Success for us is defined by lessening the impact of the pandemic, allowing us to resume more normal lives, and reducing the deaths and grief that COVID-19 is causing to families and communities across our country.

There is reason for hope. In early January, an Argentinian study published in The New England Journal of Medicine of 160 patients, all over the age of 65, showed that the early use of convalescent plasma reduced the relative risk of severe respiratory disease by 48% in the adults being studied. If we can confirm this treatment is effective in all age groups, we could reduce the virus’ disruptive and deadly effects.

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Will this be the solution that gets us back to normal?  

Tough times are upon us. Even with a vaccine being distributed nationwide, the pandemic is still a threat for the foreseeable future. Vaccines will take a while for manufacturing and distribution, may require an update to tackle variants, and may not be accepted by everyone. For the foreseeable future, people will still test positive for the COVID-19 and will need a treatment option. 

Dr. David Sullivan (Photo: handout)

Blood plasma treatments could be scaled quickly around the globe via well-established distribution networks. Plasma treatments have been used around the world to fight a variety of other infectious diseases—from measles to polio to mumps—over the last century. There are no novel technologies involved in securing supply or storing and transporting plasma. If our trials prove effective, outpatient clinics with proper freezer storage and sterilization for blood transfusions could immediately treat individuals anywhere in the world. Plasma from people who have defeated the viral variants can be swiftly implemented to respond to this threat more quickly than monoclonals or vaccines.

Get vaccinated: COVID vaccines save lives. Get one even if your own life isn’t back to normal overnight.

While a blood transfusion isn’t nearly as quick or easy as a vaccination, it could be a crucial interim measure to reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations and control its spread. Consider the impact on schools or worksites. Instead of an entire school or business having to quarantine for two weeks due to a positive case, both the infected individuals and those who came into contact with them could immediately be given a dose of plasma, creating a circle of immunity around a positive case and preventing the virus from spreading.

Volunteer to join us fight the pandemic

Johns Hopkins is working with 25 testing sites across the country, including the Navajo Nation, to get support from volunteers who are willing to be part of a potentially game-changing solution. If you have tested positive in the last six (6) days or have had a high-risk exposure in the last three (3), days (defined as spending at least 15 minutes, unmasked, within 6 feet of a known positive patient) you could potentially receive free, life-saving treatment from top-quality infectious disease doctors—and help end the pandemic, all while being compensated for your time.  

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A doctor holds a donation of convalescent plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient at the Arnulfo Arias Madrid Hospital, in Panama City, Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (Photo: Arnulfo Franco, AP)

Our trial is truly an American solution. The plasma has been donated by Americans, our study is funded by U.S. taxpayers, and we have not received any funding from a drug company. Ultimately, our study is being made possible by over 800 patriotic volunteers of all races and faiths who are united by a common commitment to finding an effective and easily scalable solution to this pandemic.

We hope you join them

David Sullivan, M.D., is professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a principal investigator for the Johns Hopkins Plasma Trials. To see if you qualify for the study, visit or call 1-888-506-1199.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19, or if you are a clinician working with patients who are, consider visiting  or calling the plasma trial’s call center at 1-888-506-1199 to learn more about how you can contribute to a solution. Se habla Español

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