Emergency authorization of convalescent plasma treatment: is it based on science, or politics?

Tuesday, August 25, 2020
UN cautions that coronavirus plasma treatment still experimental
The WHO on Monday cautioned that using blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat other patients is still considered an experimental therapy.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- President Trump announces greater access to a potentially promising therapy against COVID-19.

The FDA has granted emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma.

But many question whether the move is based on science or politics.

This is the therapy that transfuses the plasma from someone who has recovered from COVID-19 to someone currently battling the infection. The theory is the antibodies would help fight off the virus. Many experts say at this point, it is still a theory; it's not proven yet.

The announcement came Sunday during a While House briefing that convalescent plasma could be used to treat COVID-19 patients on an emergency basis.

RELATED: United Nations cautions that coronavirus plasma treatment still experimental

This means even hospitals not involved in research could give the treatment.

Some patients - and their families - credit their survival to convalescent plasma, such as 16 year-old Frankie Quintana.

His mother says "If Frankie didn't have the plasma I don't know what shape he would have been in right now. I really don't."

Action News spoke with Doctor Gerard Criner at Temple Health.

Temple is involved with a clinical trial through the Mayo Clinic and they've treated 126 patients with convalescent plasma.

Whether it works is difficult to determine because it's rare that a COVID-19 patient would receive just one specific therapy.

"In some patients it looks like something we do improves their outcomes, how much one individual product like convalescent plasma contributes to that is not clear," Dr. Criner said.

And he says other studies show the same: nothing conclusive.

"There is an association that convalescent plasma may have some benefit in some studies and no benefit in others," he said.

And there is the concern with emergency use, not a lot of data is collected so it won't help answer the question whether the therapy actually works or if it works, how strong the antibody titers need to be in order for it to be helpful.