Kern County has received its first donation of plasma from a woman who has fully recovered after testing positive for COVID-19, opening the way to begin an experimental antibody treatment on a critically ill local patient as soon as Friday.
The collection of 600 milliliters of "convalescent plasma," announced Thursday by Houchin Community Blood Bank, marks the first time plasma believed to be rich in pandemic antibodies has been collected locally. The donor's identity was not disclosed.
Houchin President and CEO Brad Bryan said his organization intends to give the fluid to a local hospital. He said the hope is that the treatment will provide an "immune boost" to the eventual recipient.
Existing protocols call for giving such patients 200 milliliters of convalescent plasma, Bryan said, meaning the donor "came in and saved the lives of three people.”
“This individual said, 'I just wanted something good to come out of this,'” he said.
An infectious disease expert at Kern Medical noted that antibody infusions have been used around the world for more than a century and that recent studies published in a prominent U.S. medical journal suggest the treatment may be helpful in the fight against COVID-19.
Dr. Arash Heidari, who is also an associate clinical professor at UCLA, said the thinking is that convalescent plasma not only carries virus-neutralizing antibodies but that it may also carry instructions telling the human immune system how to fight the infection.
"I am hopeful," he said.
Testing remained to be done on the plasma Thursday afternoon to make sure it does not contain any infectious disease. Assuming all goes well, Bryan said, the fluid would be sent to at least one local hospital with which Houchin has been working closely.
An executive at Bakersfield Memorial, one of four local hospitals on Houchin's short list of possible recipients of convalescent plasma, called the infusion treatment "extremely promising." But he added there are rigorous criteria for donors and recipients and he was unsure whether his medical center might ultimately receive some of the fluid.
"But I do know we would be willing to do it," President and CEO Ken Keller said. He added that the infusion process itself would be relatively straightforward.
"We would be privileged and blessed to be able to participate in something like this with the appropriate safeguards and investigational process," Keller said.
Additional locally collected convalescent plasma could become available soon. Bryan said Houchin has worked with federal authorities to ramp up plasma collections in hopes of distributing more of the fluid for use on local patients.
Houchin is speaking with 20 to 30 potential plasma donors who are recovering from COVID-19 or are still getting over the disease. Normally patients donate 1,000 milliliters, Bryan said, but Thursday's donor was unable to provide that amount.
To qualify, such donors must have tested positive for the disease and then test negative. Anyone interested in applying to participate is asked to call Houchin at 661-616-2575.
Bryan said the need for convalescent plasma will be great during the pandemic.
"It’s going to take every single blood bank in the nation to collect this and send to their local hospitals,” he said.