Convalescent Plasma

The Northern Ireland Blood Transfusion Service (NIBTS) will soon be starting to collect plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 to support clinical research trials being conducted in Northern Ireland.

NIBTS will be collecting blood from people who have tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19 once they have recovered and at least 28 days have passed since their symptoms have disappeared.

When someone recovers from Covid-19, they develop antibodies to fight the virus that causes the illness – SARS-CoV-2. These antibodies can be found in the recovered person’s plasma and should make them immune to future infections of this virus for a period of time.

Recent reports suggest that some patients who are ill with Covid-19 may benefit from a transfusion of plasma manufactured from blood given by eligible donors who have recovered from Covid-19. However, further work and research needs to be carried out to find out how effective this would be.

At this time, people who think that they have had Covid-19 but have not been tested cannot donate for this purpose as we currently have no way to confirm their infection. If that changes, we will update this advice.

Existing blood donors who have recovered can donate as normal once well.

The wellbeing of our donors, recipients and staff is our main priority and we recognise that not everyone who recovers from Covid-19 will be able to donate. Our standard donor eligibility criteria apply to make sure that giving blood is safe for both the donor and patient.

During the Coronavirus Pandemic, we have taken great care to minimise any risk to donors and staff and have introduced measures that follow all guidance to maintain a safe blood supply.

Update: Collection of convalescent plasma donations for COVID

Due to a phenomenal response, we are unable to accept any more donors for the Plasma trial.

Following the announcement on Friday that we were to pause the collection of Convalescent Plasma, we are delighted to say that we have been given permission, by the Department of Health, to continue to collect CP for a further six weeks from Monday 25th January.

Last week, collection of convalescent plasma was paused following the interim results of the RECOVERY and REMAP-CAP trials. These trials showed no benefit to patients receiving plasma in hospital care.  However, both trials are still analysing whether plasma could benefit a subgroup of these patients.

International trials are also testing if plasma helps people when it is used much earlier in the disease, before people are hospitalised. Early use could help some of the most vulnerable people in our society such as the elderly or those undergoing cancer treatment. There’s already some evidence showing this could work and a similar UK trial is now being discussed. Restarting collection quickly will ensure as much plasma as possible is available should one of the trials show a benefit for this patient group.

NIBTS has been involved in the collection of convalescent plasma since July and has already provided the treatment for 346 people in Northern Ireland. We are currently not asking for any more donors to come forward as over 3500 people have already registered to become plasma donors. We will therefore be concentrate our resources on collecting plasma from these people.

Anyone who feels that they still need to contribute can still do so by being a whole blood donor. For more information about blood donation please visit this website or to book an appointment call 08085 534 666.

FAQs

Some people who have had Covid-19 and recovered have developed special antibodies in their blood plasma (the straw coloured liquid which surrounds the red blood cells). This is known as Convalescent Plasma, and may help fight off the virus if donated to very ill Covid-19 patients with severe lung disease.

Antibodies are Y-shaped molecules that are made by your immune system to help fight diseases such as colds and flu and other infections. Normally, you produce these molecules 2-3 weeks after getting an infection.

If you have recovered from Covid 19 and are immune, your antibodies can act like a gift of immunity to patients who are ill and help them fight their infection. This is known as ‘passive immunisation’ and has been used in the past to treat other infections such as flu, diphtheria and Ebola.

Doctors in other countries have reported that a few very ill Covid-19 patients have probably benefited from treatment with Convalescent Plasma. Convalescent Plasma collected by the UK blood services will be used in clinical trials to try and see if it can be used to treat Covid-19.

At the moment, only donors aged 17-65 who have tested positive for Covid-19 and have been symptom free for 28 days, and meet our usual eligibility criteria, are able to donate Convalescent Plasma. We are currently unable to take Convalescent Plasma from donors who have had suspected Covid-19 but were not tested.

No, the usual eligibility criteria still apply - if your haemoglobin is too low, for example, you won't be able to donate, or if you've recently had a tattoo, or if you take certain types of medications etc. We suggest that you have a look at our Can I Donate? page for an overview.

There are two methods of donating Convalescent Plasma: through whole blood donation and through plasma donation. At the moment, we are only taking Convalescent Plasma through whole blood donation, which means that as a donor, you give a completely normal blood donation, but it is processed differently in our laboratory. This also means your red blood cells can be used separately, and you will be able to give blood again in three months’ time.

In the future, we are also planning to take plasma-only donations. These use different machines, which separate your plasma and your red blood cells as you donate, and yield a greater amount of plasma. It is possible to donate this way more frequently than donating blood but you cannot donate blood whilst you are a plasma donor.

Donating Convalescent Plasma by whole blood takes the same amount of time as a normal blood donation which is around one hour in total. This includes screening, haemoglobin testing and actual donation. Giving Convalescent Plasma by plasmapheresis (when a special machine is used to separate plasma as you donate) takes longer, around 90 minutes in total.

Female Convalescent Plasma donors may have to give an extra blood sample, but all other additional tests will be able to come directly from the donation. There will also be an extra Convalescent Plasma consent form.

No - your medical records are private, and will be treated in confidence in exactly the same way as they are any time you come to give blood. As far as other donors are concerned, you will simply be another blood donor.

No - Convalescent Plasma donation is an entirely voluntary procedure and it is your choice whether you donate or not.

That's absolutely fine, just let us know and we will cancel or rearrange your appointment.

If you're donating Convalescent Plasma through whole blood donation, you are still donating your red blood cells, and these will be used to save or improve patient's lives. If you're donating Convalescent Plasma by plasmapheresis, you will be unable to donate whole blood at the same time.

No. Donating Convalescent Plasma involves some additional tests, processes and specific staff training (and a different machine, if you are donating plasma-only). This is more easily managed centrally at our donation centre in Belfast.

No, not at the moment. We are currently only taking Convalescent Plasma donations from donors who have had a positive COVID 19 test result.

If you think you meet the criteria to donate, please complete the online registration form. We will hold your details on record and may contact you when we begin Convalescent Plasma collection programme.