AABB22: COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Lessons Learned: It’s a Numbers Game

November 06, 2022

Convalescent plasma became a sought-after treatment early in the COVID-19 pandemic, offering passive immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the possibility of reducing the severity of symptoms and fatalities. The increased demand for COVID convalescent plasma (CCP) started early in the pandemic and raised challenges in supply, donor recruitment, communication, and data management. These challenges resulted in valuable lessons that can be applied to future pandemics and other infectious outbreaks.

“We know this won’t be the last pandemic. We have to learn from [this one],” William Block, president and CEO of Blood Centers of America (BCA) said during Sunday’s session “Convalescent Plasma: Past, Present, Future.” AABB and other stakeholders are working to integrate lessons from the current pandemic into strategies for the future.

Regardless of the lesson — it’s about the numbers. From March 2020 to May 2021 CCP collections at Blood Centers of America (BCA) and America’s Blood Centers (ABC) totaled 670,000 with roughly 500,000 distributions.

The large number of patients with severe COVID or at high risk of severe disease strained supplies of normal blood collection supplies (tubes, bags, gloves). Blood collectors found themselves scrambling to obtain PPE not typically used for blood collection and processing — masks, gowns, and hand sanitizer. Of course, practically everyone in health care was looking for these supplies as well. Blood centers found themselves with the additional costs of necessary PPE and dramatically increased prices for all supplies. The price of masks jumped nearly 200%. Blood centers developed a consignment distribution model for medical plastics aimed to increase efficiency while reducing risk. Building a stockpile of supplies will help with the next pandemic or disaster.

Interorganizational communication was crucial, bringing together AABB, the Interorganizational Disaster Task Force, blood centers, key clinical experts, federal partners, industry, and other stakeholders. AABB held biweekly calls with BCA, ABC, and the American Red Cross to support members and create industry alignment. Block suggested that consideration should be given to an emergency mandate to allow for the shipment of blood products to move directly to hospitals, regardless of contractual obligations to other blood collecting entities.

Data needs required some rethinking as well. “Data is incredibly important, especially when you’re dealing with forecasting what you need, what you’ve distributed, and how much is being used,” Block said. In the case of BCA, blood centers pushed distribution and collection data files to a data center, where BCA determined the broad patterns of CCP distribution — what types of facilities were receiving CCP in what volumes. This information was provided to the US Federal government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and Operation Warp Speed. This data provided key information during the pandemic and has also led to important data management lessons for future pandemics.

Donor recruitment required new strategies to reach and recruit large numbers of specifically defined eligible donors. Ten thousand potential CCP donors winnowed down to 380 presenting donors and 168 CCP doses, according to Block. “We had to do a lot of work to bring in donors,” he said.