COVID Plasma: Who Gets Access?

Doctors and scientists have high hopes about using donor plasma to fight COVID-19. But now a fight is on over who gets it, study patients or the desperate public.

As more people have recovered from COVID-19, medical personnel have asked them to donate plasma, in hopes that it will contain antibodies that can help sick patients mount an attack against the virus.

Plasma has been used to fight other infectious diseases since the 1890s. It works by transferring antibodies from a recovered person to one who is still sick. It’s considered a safe treatment, unlike many drugs.

The Trump administration has spent $48 million working with the Mayo Clinic to give over 53,000 COVID-19 patients plasma injections. Tens of thousands more are enrolled to get the plasma.

President Trump called the plasma a “beautiful ingredient” and urged people to donate. This set off the Trump haters, who claim that his words have interfered with scientific research. They say the only way to prove the efficacy of plasma is a full-on double-blind clinical trial, which they then claim may not happen because no one wants to be in the control group that gets a placebo instead of the plasma.

Hasn’t that always been true for desperate people with a disease? No very sick person wants to go through a clinical trial and not be the one that gets the “good” drug. Another confounding factor is that coronavirus cases have waned in some cities where trials were set up. Yes, some scientists are complaining about lower case rates messing up the trials.

But the researchers, being smart people, have shipped off the plasma to places where the virus is still raging. The American Southwest? No. Florida? No: Brazil. There’s a lot of cases in Brazil right now, but the American media is also constantly telling us how terrible things are in the U.S. We supposedly have the worst death rate in the world (although not per capita). So why not here?

Actually, there are some new trials going on in the U.S., in Connecticut, Florida, and Texas. Johns Hopkins in Baltimore also is starting a trial.

Some claim giving the precious plasma to American patients (who need it is) messing up the trials. And they are right; there’s only so much plasma, If it’s going to the regular hospitalized people, it isn’t going to trial patients.

The FDA has approved expanded access to plasma, claiming that the access wasn’t meant to derail trials, it was meant to stem an emergency burden on hospitals. This has not sat well with some, who claim the FDA is bowing to political pressure and undermining science. Four former FDA commissioners have advocated for more clinical trials.

One trial scientist, Dr. Ian Lipkin, who endorsed use of plasma publicly months ago on the Lou Dobbs show on Fox Business Network is now saying that the benefits he touted are no substitute for “rigorous science.”

While some scientists have advocated pooling the data from several unfinished trials, others worry that the different study methods used in each trial could complicate the results. The words “review of the literature” must not mean much to this latter group.

Here’s what’s certain: if the U.S. really is in disaster mode and the plasma is highly unlikely to be harmful, making sure those who need it get seems like a compassionate choice.

Disclaimer: This article does not provide medical advice. Do not take action based solely on this article and always consult with an appropriate healthcare professional. This article is purely for informational purposes.

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