Allison P. Wheeler is an assistant professor of pathology, microbiology and immunology at Vanderbilt and one of the principal investigators of a convalescent plasma trial at Vanderbilt that was launched with Ms. Parton’s funding. Through a $34 million National Institutes of Health grant, that research was later expanded to 51 additional sites around the country. The team’s goal is to treat 500 patients with convalescent plasma and 500 others with a placebo.
“I am overwhelmed by the donor response to our study,” Dr. Wheeler said. “This has been a hard year for everybody, and seeing how much people really want to help has been a high point for me. But blood is a limited resource. At this time, we absolutely couldn’t give convalescent plasma to everyone who may benefit. We just wouldn’t have enough plasma.”
Enter The Rock.
The wrestler-turned-movie-star otherwise known as Dwayne Johnson has stepped up to be a spokesman for a public-private initiative called “The Fight Is in Us.” Mr. Johnson encourages Covid-19 survivors to donate plasma: “If you survived it, then you’re the heroes we need,” he says in a P.S.A. “You fought for your life. Now, let’s work together to take down Covid-19.”
The Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved convalescent plasma as a treatment for Covid-19, but it does allow emergency use in life-threatening cases. Creating a stockpile of convalescent plasma would make it possible to treat many more severely ill patients during resurgences of the virus before a vaccine is widely available. (Donating is possible all over the country. Click here to find out how.)
A caveat: Though the early evidence suggests that Covid reinfections are exceedingly rare, at least within this first year of the pandemic, it is far too soon to believe that surviving the virus means you are safe. You still need to avoid large gatherings. You still need to keep your distance from people outside your immediate household. You still need to wear a mask.
But being a survivor means you can help. Donating plasma takes a couple of hours, and it’s no more painful than a needle stick. Your own body will replenish the plasma within a day or two, antibodies included.
At my last donation, I watched a friend’s small, socially-distanced wedding on Zoom while I was connected to the apheresis machine, which was collecting my blood and sorting it into parts — plasma, platelets, white blood cells and red blood cells. Nothing says Peak 2020 like donating antibodies while watching someone get married on your phone. It was joyful event, even on a tiny screen. I held my phone with one hand, and I squeezed a ball with the other, helping the blood move through the machine more quickly. I watched my friends promise to love each other through good times and bad, in sickness and in health, and I prayed for their health. For everybody’s health.
Joy and hope may not be what you expect to find in a university laboratory, but it’s what I felt anyway. Joy and hope and relief that there is finally a way to help.
Margaret Renkl is a contributing opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South. She is the author of the book “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss.”
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