Blood collection specialist Katherine Severson holds a plasma bag of a recovering coronavirus patient at Seattle’s Central Bloodworks Northwest during the global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Seattle, Washington, September 2, 2020.
Lindsey Wasson | Reuters
The World Health Organization on Monday issued a strong recommendation not to use convalescent plasma to treat patients with Covid-19, citing research that shows no improvement in patients who receive treatment.
In convalescent plasma therapy, blood plasma is given by someone who has recovered from the virus and passed on to a patient fighting the virus in the hope that the donor’s antibodies will help fight the infection.
However, the WHO Guidelines Development Group found that “there was no clear benefit for critical outcomes such as mortality and mechanical ventilation for patients with mild, severe or critical illness, and there were significant resource requirements in terms of cost and time of administration.” …
The group said treatment also faces practical challenges such as finding and testing donors and collecting, storing and transporting plasma.
The recommendation is based on 16 studies involving over 16,000 patients with mild, severe and critical Covid infections. The group said that treatment studies should be continued in randomized controlled trials. The new recommendation has been published in the British Medical Journal.
FDA in February reduced authorization for the use of plasma for convalescents in emergencies to cover only hospitalized patients at an early stage of disease progression and hospitalized patients with impaired immune systems in which they cannot develop strong antibodies.
“Plasma with low antibodies has been shown to be ineffective in COVID-19,” the FDA said in its revised emergency release in February.
The agency issued its initial wider U.S. emergency clearance for all hospitalized patients in August 2020, when there were no other approved treatments for the virus. During the Trump administration, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar noted the use of convalescent plasma as an “important achievement” in efforts to combat Covid.
The FDA has since authorized two treatments for Covid: the antiviral drug Remdesivir Gilead in October 2020 and the Regeneron antibody cocktail the following month. Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine was approved about a year ago.
V National Institutes of Health in August also said convalescent plasma did not help patients in an NIH-supported study of over 500 adult Covid patients at the University of Pittsburgh. The trial was halted in February due to lack of effectiveness, the NIH reported.
New England Journal of Medicine, iresearch published last monthfound that convalescent plasma did not prevent disease progression in high-risk outpatients when administered one week after symptom onset. It also did not improve clinical outcomes in hospitalized patients with advanced disease, according to the study.
However, research has shown that convalescent plasma does indeed reduce disease progression in older outpatients when administered within 72 hours of symptom onset.
Pfizer and Merck are currently seeking approval for the emergency use of oral antiviral drugs designed to reduce the risk of hospitalization due to Covid.