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: Convalescent plasma collection Paused.
NIBTS and the other UK blood services have been involved in two clinical trials, (RECOVERY and REMAP-CAP), assessing the potential of plasma taken from donors, who have recovered from Covid-19, as a treatment for others.

We’re incredibly disappointed to tell you that the interim results from both trials do not show evidence that convalescent plasma has an overall benefit on patient outcomes.  The trials will continue to collect follow up information and carry out analysis, in case there is evidence of benefit in any patient subgroup.

We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the Northern Ireland public who have responded to our requests for people who have recovered from Covid-19 to come forward and donate. Over 3500 people have already registered to donate convalescent plasma. Following these results, we are temporarily suspending plasma donation. We will also be suspending booking new appointments. We are asking donors to please keep appointments already booked while we explore all options, and we will update them as soon as possible.

The results from the trials will be hugely disappointing to the people who have given their time and donations - many of them following severe illness or bereavement – and for the staff who have worked incredibly hard over many months. People have travelled many miles to donate, taken time away from work, and overcome fears about coming back into a hospital environment. We cannot thank them enough for all they have done.

The staff in NIBTS and the hospital trusts involved can also be proud that they have been part of the world’s largest randomised control trial of convalescent plasma not just for the treatment of COVID-19, but for any viral infection. A key scientific question has been answered.

Thank you to everyone to everyone involved for your ongoing donations, support and hard work.

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.