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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Tri-State Blood Banks No Longer Collecting COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma

Courtesy of Community Blood Center
Donors at Community Blood Center in Dayton.

Hoxworth Blood Center and Community Blood Center are no longer collecting convalescent plasma from people who had COVID-19. Both agencies say there's plenty of the blood product available if needed, but it's largely been ruled out as a treatment for COVID-19 patients.

The National Institutes of Health halted a trial earlier this year after determining that while it was unlikely to harm patients with mild to moderate symptoms, using COVID-19 convalescent plasma (CCP) also provided little benefit.

As NPR reported, two major studies found similar results.

"The RECOVERY Trial in the United Kingdom had studied more than 10,000 volunteers and found no benefit. Another one called CONCOR-1, run by Canadians, had studied nearly 1,000 patients. It, too, stopped recruiting new patients because doing so would have been futile," reported NPR's Richard Harris.

Various studies show the treatment appeared to be most useful early in the disease's infection cycle. The CCP also needs to have a high concentration of antibodies.

Community Blood Center in Dayton was the first blood center in Ohio to collect COVID-19 convalescent plasma.

"We knew that it was safe to do and we knew that it had been in some measure in past pandemics," says Communications Manager Mark Pompilio. "We went into it with the sense that there was a great demand for it. There was a great demand for treatments against the coronavirus."

In just under a year, 2,007 donors gave 4,128 CCP donations, totaling 9,425 doses. Each donation can be split into up to three doses, he explains. The program ended March 20.

Half of those doses went to regional hospitals. At the start, all doses, he says, went to local hospitals, but as supply increased, CBC was able to send CCP to other places it was needed.

Hoxworth in Cincinnati began collecting CCP shortly after CBC. The agency reports more than 4,000 people registered to donate. By the time the program ended March 18, 2,508 donors gave more than 5,539 units.

"At the height of the pandemic when there was so much community spread we were sending out so many units," says Cara Nicolas, associate director of public relations. "I think it was peaking at around 40-60 units of convalescent plasma to local hospitals every day."

Both agencies note local demand is low and there is a "healthy" national stockpile of CCP should it be needed. Frozen plasma can be stored for up to one year.

"We're trying to honor the people who did this for us," Pompilio says. "It was such a community effort to get the program up and running."

A New Donor Database

As both agencies thank those who donated, they're also hoping to bring many of these first time donors into the fold. Blood donations dropped during the pandemic as people stayed home, in-person capacity was limited, and blood drives were canceled or scaled back.

That's on top of already declining donor numbers. As WVXU reported in 2015, the baby boomer generation has long been the largest donor age group. While there's no age limit for donating, as people age they encounter more health concerns that can take them out of the donor pool.

Donation centers frequently point out 'the demand for blood never ends' and are constantly looking for new donors.

"We did add so many people to our roster of donors," Hoxworth's Nicolas says. "With convalescent plasma tons of people came out who had never given blood before, and we're hoping now that they've done it and realized it's not scary — the needle stick doesn't hurt — that they're going to continue to donate with us."

Specifically, Hoxworth and CBC are looking for platelets, which are considered a valuable blood product but have a limited shelf live of five days. Hoxworth needs 40-50 platelet donors per day to keep up with local demand, says Nicolas.

"The process of donating platelets is very similar to donating plasma so these people are already used to it, they've already done the song-and-dance of donating so we're hoping they'll continue to donate platelets once a month," she says.

Blood donation wasn't put on hold while agencies collected CCP, however agencies couldn't collect as much other plasma and platelet products because those machines were being used for CCP.

"We're pushing now — with machines more available — for people to give double red blood cells," adds the CBC's Pompilio. "It's like a whole blood donation but a double quantity of red cells in one donation using a machine. That's very important because O+ blood has been very difficult for us to keep in supply."

O+ is the most common blood type, but usage is high and places are having a hard time keeping it in stock during the pandemic.

"We can really direct recruitment now toward these areas that have been treading water alongside the demand for CCP," Pompilio says.

I've Had A COVID Vaccine, Can I Donate Blood?

Some donor restrictions were relaxed during the pandemic. Those are slowly reverting. Pompilio says people who have had COVID-19 or a COVID-19 vaccine are able to donate.

If you have questions about your eligibility to donate blood or blood products, you can check the Hoxworth or Community Blood Center websites.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.