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Blood bank is looking for COVID survivors

Did you recover from COVID-19 in Hawaii?

The Blood Bank of Hawaii is looking for more people who have recovered from COVID-19 to donate their convalescent plasma — the liquid part of the blood that contains antibodies to the new coronavirus — to help treat those who are hospitalized.

The Blood Bank of Hawaii announced last week the launch of its “Fight COVID With COVID” campaign, which aims to bring in 100 to 150 new convalescent plasma donors a month in the new year.

Time is of the essence, according to Blood Bank of Hawaii President and CEO Kim-Anh Nguyen, as Hawaii faces a triple threat: the detection of more contagious COVID-19 strains on the mainland, the state’s current spike in infection rate, and the depletion of the nation’s COVID-19 convalescent plasma stockpile.

“As you all know, we’re being hit very, very hard, and the pandemic is now at the worst that it’s ever been,” Nguyen said at a news conference Wednesday. “And as our leaders have told us, the worst is yet to come before the light at the end of the tunnel. … That’s why I come to you to ask for your help.”

The campaign is looking for new donors, and hopes to recruit help from Hawaii’s Filipino, Micronesian and Native Hawaiian populations, which together make up about two-thirds of all COVID-19 patients in the state.

“On the flip side, that’s where our recovered patients come from, and that’s where we find the heroes, those that have recovered that can help us fight COVID-19,” said Nguyen.

As part of the campaign, the blood bank is offering convalescent plasma donors a $25 Foodland gift certificate.

In order to donate, convalescent plasma donors must have tested positive for COVID-19 with lab-confirmed documentation and be healthy and symptom-free for 28 days while meeting standard plasma donor requirements. A repeat donation can also be made after 28 days.

Fortunately, during the summer spike in COVID-19 cases last year, the blood bank was able to cover the state’s needs with locally donated convalescent plasma as well as imports from the mainland. To date, the Blood Bank of Hawaii says, about 1,250 doses have been distributed to 11 hospitals statewide as well as one California hospital.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who recovered from COVID-19 last year, has donated several times in support of the blood bank.

“To fight COVID with COVID is not unlike fighting fire with fire,” said Green. “It’s important to stockpile convalescent plasma because we don’t know when we’re going to need it.”

Due to holiday gatherings, the daily number of new cases spiked to 322 earlier this month, prompting Green to call for a two-week pause on all social gatherings in the isles to bring down those numbers. As those numbers rise, though, so do the number of patients hospitalized.

There’s also a wrinkle, according to Green.

Under current U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines, those who get vaccinated cannot donate COVID-19 convalescent plasma. This is due in part to the lack of research and information available of the vaccine’s impact on antibodies.

Individuals who are vaccinated with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, however, can still donate regular blood, platelets or plasma, which are also in great need at the Blood Bank of Hawaii.

A lot has changed since the Blood Bank of Hawaii launched its convalescent plasma program in late April.

In August the FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization for convalescent plasma as a potentially promising treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, intended for use during the public health emergency. The cumulative number of those diagnosed with COVID-19 in Hawaii, then at about 600, has since surpassed 24,000.

A coalition made up of the state Health Department, local hospitals and other clinical laboratories continues to help find potential donors as well as identify patients who could benefit from the plasma transfusions.

The blood bank will also collaborate with groups such as the Philippine Medical Association of Hawaii, the Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander Hawaii COVID-19 Response Recovery and Resilience Team, and Pasefika Empowerment Association.

One donation, on average, results in enough doses to help three to four patients. Once collected, the convalescent plasma can be frozen and stored for up to a year prior to use.

Convalescent plasma can now be donated at three Oahu sites: the Young Street Donor Center, Dillingham Donor Center and Waikele.

TO DONATE CONVALESCENT PLASMA

For more information, visit bbh.org/FightCovid.

>> Call the Blood Bank of Hawaii at 848-4706 or email covidplasma@bbh.org.*

>> Blood Bank of Hawaii will be in Hilo on Jan. 19-21 and in Kona on Feb. 23-25 for donations.

*A pre-scheduled appointment is required.

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