Oxford is cancelling some blood donations over the next few weeks in order to divert resources to COVID-19 trials. The blood donation resources will be used to support a national plasma trial, led by Oxford Professor of Haematology David Roberts.
This trial was announced by the Department of Health and Social Care on 25th April and aims to investigate whether plasma transfusions from patients who have recovered from coronavirus could be an effective treatment. It is believed that this plasma may contain antibodies which would fight the disease, potentially increasing a patient’s likelihood of survival and speed of recovery.
Speaking to the Oxford Mail, Roberts said that “in previous flu and coronavirus epidemics, some reports suggested antibodies from donors who had recovered from the disease could be used to treat acutely ill patients… [This] is an exciting development as there is no proven treatment for COVID-19.”
NHS Blood and Transplant has collected over 400 plasma donations so far. Potential donors can give their details here.
Preliminary studies in China have been hopeful. Ten patients received a 200ml dose of plasma and researchers argued that all symptoms subsided within three days.
Prof Sir Robert Lechler, the president of the Academy of Medical Sciences, spoke to The Guardian, saying: “Convalescent plasma transfusions are not a silver bullet solution for the coronavirus health crisis; however, they do have the potential to be hugely beneficial. The US has charged ahead with this. They have already treated 500 patients with convalescent plasma, and although it is much too soon to know the results, anecdotally it has helped patients recover.”
A potential advantage to plasma treatments is plasma’s longevity. According to Scotblood, “blood has a shelf life of 35 days and platelets can only be used for up to seven days, while fresh frozen plasma can be kept for up to three years”. Plasma could then be stored and used in the event of a second wave.
The short shelf-life of blood does mean that this strategy culminates in risk. Freeing up appointments in donation centres requires cancelling blood and platelet donation appointments. Blood and platelets have shorter shelf-lives than plasma, so there is the risk that supplies will run low.
While a drop in blood and platelet supplies would typically culminate in concern, the drop in non-urgent surgery creates a similar drop in demand. An NHS Blood and Transplant spokesperson insisted supplies of blood would still be available for those in need and clarified the policy change: “We are still collecting blood and platelet in Oxford so please keep making appointments to donate. Donation saves lives.
“This new trial is part of the national research effort against the coronavirus and we hope people understand if we make any changes to your appointment… If your appointment is cancelled until another day it means we have good blood and platelet stocks, and the appointment time can be used for someone to donate plasma to a seriously ill COVID-19 patient.”
Appointments can be re-booked by visiting blood.co.uk, using the NHSGiveBlood app or calling 0300 123 23 23.
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