On Sunday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued emergency authorization to use blood plasma to treat COVID-19.
“Convalescent plasma,” which is taken from the blood of recovered coronavirus patients, contains powerful antibodies that may help fight the virus. In a statement, the FDA concluded that plasma’s “known and potential benefits … outweigh the known and potential risks.”
Those risks include side effects like allergic reactions, lung injury, and “transfusion-transmitted infections.” Still, the agency determined that plasma is a safe enough option considering that it may increase patients’ chances of survival.
The FDA had planned to issue emergency authorization, which requires less evidence than full FDA approval, last week. Top health officials, however, warned that more data are needed to prove that plasma is a safe and effective treatment.
But with more than 176,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States, the agency has decided that the urgency of the situation warrants cutting some corners. President Donald Trump, who is anxious for a political victory as he trails Democratic challenger Joe Biden, touted plasma’s “incredible rate of success” at a press conference on Sunday. However, his claim that plasma reduces mortality by 35 percent is wildly inaccurate, scientists said.
Plasma is the latest cure-all candidate in the global fight against the coronavirus, which has claimed over 800,000 lives.
Last week, Polish pharmaceutical company Biomed Lublin began producing the world’s first drug made from plasma with COVID-19 antibodies. The United Kingdom is currently running two plasma trials, though a recent analysis said its benefits are “very uncertain.”
Malaria drug hydroxychloroquine was floated as a potential treatment earlier in the pandemic and was especially promoted by President Trump. In June, however, the FDA revoked its emergency authorization after concluding that it provides no benefit to COVID-19 patients. The agency also noted later that hydroxychloroquine may have severe side effects, including heart, kidney, and liver problems.
Perhaps the most promising drug so far has been dexamethasone, which was proven in the UK to reduce the risk of death significantly for patients on ventilators and oxygen. While ineffective against mild cases, the cheap steroid is, at this stage in the pandemic, certainly an encouraging remedy for those most vulnerable to the virus.