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 which was initiated with funding from Ms. Parton. Thanks to a $ 34 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, this research was then expanded to 51 additional sites across the country. The team’s goal is to treat 500 patients with convalescent plasma and another 500 with placebo.
“I am overwhelmed by the response from donors to our study,” said Dr. Wheeler. “It’s been a tough year for everyone and seeing how much people really want to help has been a highlight for me. But blood is a finite resource. At this time, we absolutely cannot give convalescent plasma to everyone who could benefit from it. We just wouldn’t have enough plasma.
Enter the rock.
The wrestler-turned-movie star, otherwise known as Dwayne Johnson, has become the spokesperson 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 are the heroes we need,’ he said in a public service announcement. “You fought for your life. Now let’s work together to eliminate 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 potentially fatal cases. Creating a stockpile of convalescent plasma would make it possible to treat many more critically ill patients during virus resurgences before a vaccine is widely available. (Donation is possible nationwide. Click here to find out how.)
One caveat: While early evidence suggests that re-infections from Covid are extremely rare, at least in this first year of the pandemic, it’s far too early to believe that surviving the virus means you’re safe. You should always avoid large gatherings. You should always keep your distance from people outside your immediate household. You should always wear a mask.
But being a survivor means you can help. Donating plasma takes a few hours and is no more painful than a needle stick. Your own body will replenish the plasma within a day or two, including antibodies.
During my last donation, I watched a friend’s socially estranged little wedding on Zoom while I was hooked up to the apheresis machine, which collected my blood and sorted it into several parts – plasma, platelets, white blood cells and red blood cells. Nothing says Peak 2020 like giving antibodies while watching someone marry on your phone. It was a joyous event, even on a small screen. I held my phone with one hand and squeezed a ball with the other, helping the blood flow through the machine faster. I saw my friends promise to love each other in good times and bad, in sickness and health, and I prayed for their health. For everyone’s health.
Joy and hope might not be what you would expect to find in a college lab, but it’s what I felt anyway. Joy and hope and relief that there is finally a way to help.
Margaret Renkl is an opinion writer covering flora, fauna, politics, and culture in the Southern United States. She is the author of the book “Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss”.
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