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Officals seek convalescent plasma donations

Blood Bank of Hawaii back on Maui in March

Amber Kozaki talks with Kahului’s Nolan Tan as he donates blood in November in Wailuku. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Convalescent plasma donations from recovered COVID-19 patients could save a life, a concept that officials say can help to treat those hospitalized with the virus.

The Blood Bank of Hawaii announced last week its “Fight COVID with COVID” campaign to encourage about 100 to 150 new donors a month for COVID-19 convalescent plasma (CCP) donations, hoping to boost the state’s inventory for future needs amid the ongoing pandemic.

“The main barrier to collecting COVID plasma is lack of information because it’s a relatively new concept, and somewhat of a medical topic that hasn’t been part of the more mainstream information typically shared about COVID-19,” BBH CEO Dr. Kim-Anh Nguyen said Friday. “The information that recovered patients initially receive might also sound intimidating or seem too daunting soon after their illness.”

However, Nguyen and Lt. Gov. Josh Green said during a BBH news conference last week that “it’s an easy process, takes about an hour and you will directly contribute to the care of your community.”

Plasma of former coronavirus patients is rich with antibodies and considered “one of the primary treatments” for those hospitalized due to COVID-19. When a person recovers from the virus, their blood still contains COVID-19-targeted antibodies.

Phillos Urman of the state Department of Health (from left), Lt. Governor Josh Green, Blood Bank of Hawaii President and Chief Executive Officer Kim-Anh Ngyuen and Pastor Gladys Tupulua of New Creation Church discuss the importance of plasma donations from people who have recovered from COVID-19 during a Blood Bank of Hawaii news conference last week. Blood Bank of Hawaii photo

“One goal of our awareness campaign is for recovered patients to know how safe and easy it is to help someone who is struggling with the virus,” Nguyen told The Maui News. “Our staff will do everything possible to help in every step of the process. Our challenge is also to make sure that the information reaches the right donor audience.

“Those who have been fortunate enough not to contract the virus can also help by spreading the word about how important it is to donate CCP,” she added.

As of Wednesday, BBH has about 576 donations of CCP in stock. There is no set allotment per county or island, so there’s currently enough to treat around 250 patients statewide, which can last anywhere from one to four weeks depending on demand.

During a spike in cases last summer, BBH was able to combine local CCP with imports from the Mainland to cover the state’s needs. To date, 1,250 total doses have been distributed to 11 hospitals statewide and one California hospital.

Blood bank officials seek to increase the current CCP inventory due to a new and more contagious variant of COVID-19 found on the Mainland and the depletion of the national CCP stockpile, as well as the recent spike in cases statewide which “will result in higher numbers of patients being hospitalized.”

“CCP is still one of the primary treatments for hospitalized patients so if there is another surge, we anticipate that supply would get used at a faster rate,” Nguyen said.

BBH’s goal is to bring in 100 to 150 new donors a month moving forward. CCP can be donated every 28 days and of 186 total donors, 81 repeat donors have donated two or more times, according to a BBH news release.

The next three-day blood drive on Maui is March 23 to 25 at the Cameron Center. Hours of operation will vary by day and donors can make an appointment online or by calling the center. Whole blood, plasma and CCP donations will be collected during the drive.

Though no CCP donations were collected in the Valley Isle’s previous drive in November, Nguyen said that the donor turnout was “outstanding” with nearly 400 blood donors participating, which exceeded the goal of 360.

CCP donors must first meet blood donor eligibility criteria with lab documentation of a COVID-19 positive test and be symptom-free for more than 28 days in order to be able to donate. Once these three requirements are satisfied, donors can email the CCP Donor Questionnaire and COVID-19 positive test results to COVIDplasma@bbh.org.

BBH will then reach out to coordinate a CCP donation appointment.

“Donors can get vaccinated with either the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and give blood, platelets or plasma with no waiting period,” she said in a news release. “But CCP donors who receive either vaccine must be deferred due to the lack of research regarding the impact of the vaccine on their antibodies.”

The state Department of Health, local hospitals and physicians have been helping to notify patients about CCP donations.

Considering that Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Filipinos make up two-thirds of all COVID-19 patients in the state, this campaign aims to recruit those who have fully recovered from the virus to donate their plasma.

“Our ‘Fight COVID with COVID’ initiative aims to build bridges with other nonprofits and organizations that can help reach into those communities,” Nguyen said Friday. “COVID-19 survivors are the only source of CCP. As more people recover every day, we want those donors to know how much of an impact their plasma can have, with the potential to help save the life of someone they know — a friend, family member or neighbor.”

The campaign includes BBH and community organizations 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.

All CCP donations require a pre-scheduled appointment. Blood Bank of Hawaii will provide CCP donors with a nontransferable $25 Foodland gift certificate.

Residents who tested positive for COVID-19 and want to help are urged to contact BBH by phone at (808) 848-4706 or email covidplasma@bbh.org. For more information, visit bbh.org/FightCovid or connect via social media @BloodBankHawaii.

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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