Convalescent Plasma

Thank you for your interest in convalescent plasma donation.

New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) is collecting convalescent plasma, by collecting donations from those who have recovered from COVID-19, to help in the treatment of COVID-19 patients. NZBS will be collecting convalescent plasma donations at four of its nine donor centres – Epsom (Auckland), Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.

Key information:

  • NZBS will be working with Public Health Services to contact potential donors officially classified as recovered from COVID-19 by their Regional Public Health Service.
  • NZBS will be booking appointments for recovered COVID-19 patients. Donations will be carefully managed through NZBS doctors and its administration team. Recovered patients who meet initial criteria (e.g. age, location) will be contacted directly by NZBS.
  • If you have recovered from COVID-19 DO NOT book your own appointment – please wait to be contacted by NZBS. This is so criteria and process can be explained and the appointment can be tagged correctly as a convalescent plasma donation.
  • Potential convalescent plasma donors must meet NZBS’s criteria for donating plasma.  However, NZBS will waive the deferral for pneumonia, along with some height and weight restrictions that usually exist for plasma donations, for these donors
  • Convalescent donors must have had a positive COVID-19 test at diagnosis and had 28 days without a fever before donating. If the donor had no fever as part of their symptoms then the criteria used will be either clearance from their Regional Public Service for 14 days before donating, or be 28 days since their diagnosis. The criteria we will use is whichever is the longer of the two criteria.
  • Donor Centres continue to be safe places to visit and travelling to a donate blood is considered essential travel.

Frequently Asked Questions?

What is convalescent plasma?

Convalescent plasma is collected from patients who have recently recovered from an illness that stimulates the patient’s immune system into producing high levels of antibodies directed specifically against the illness. These antibodies can be collected and transfused to provide a level of immunity against the illness in patients who have not yet recovered.

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Has it been used before in treatment of other illnesses and COVID-19?

Convalescent plasma was first recorded in the 1880s with animal cases showing protection against diphtheria and tetanus, leading to significant clinical use from the 1920s.  After World War II, its use dropped off with the discovery of various antibiotics. But in recent years, it has been used against SARS, H1N1 influenza and Ebola. Recent studies have indicated that patients with COVID-19 may respond to convalescent plasma.

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How does it work?

Convalescent plasma works by collecting plasma containing antibodies to the infection of interest from a patient who has recently recovered from the infection (convalescing donor) and transfusing the plasma to a patient with severe effects or at high risk of such effects from the same infection (recipient). The process is the transfer of neutralising antibodies from a patient who has made them to a patient who needs them.

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Is it a vaccine for COVID-19?

No, at this time there is no vaccine available for COVID-19. Vaccines work by stimulating the patient’s own immune system to make antibodies.

Convalescent plasma works by giving the donor’s antibodies to the patient. This is a temporary measure, intended to help the patient get through the worst of the illness until the patient’s own immune system can make sufficient antibodies.

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How do we know if it will work?

We don’t know for sure, and we do know that convalescent plasma doesn’t work for all viruses. Because evidence suggests that it worked in SARS, a close relative of COVID-19, and because several small studies have shown an improvement, we think there is a very good chance it will help. And that chance is better than anything else available at the moment.

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How are donors identified?

NZBS will work with the Ministry of Health and Regional Public Health Services to identify people who have had COVID-19, meet some of the broader criteria (e.g. age, location) and who have contact details available.

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What is classified as “recovered from COVID-19”?

The criteria we are using is 28 days without a fever before donating.

If the donor NEVER had a fever, then the criteria used will be either clearance from the Regional Public Service for 14 days before donating, or be 28 days since their diagnosis. The criteria we will use is whichever is the longer of the two criteria above.

In addition, a NZBS doctor will conduct a telephonic clinical assessment of the person, including the severity of their recent illness prior to donating. They will also be assessed in person on the day of the donation at the donor centre. If there are any concerns about their health, we will ask them to delay (defer) their donation.

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Do donors have to meet normal donor eligibility criteria to give?

Yes, convalescent plasma donors must meet all the usual criteria for donation apart from the recent COVID-19 illness and pneumonia (this deferral condition may be overridden if required). This is for the donor’s safety as well as that of the recipient.

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When and how do donors donate it?

Donation is at one of four blood donor centres (Epsom in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington or Christchurch) where we have the equipment for this specific type of plasma donation.

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Do donors need to be in isolation from other donors to reduce the risk of infection?

Convalescent plasma donors are not infectious after recovery and cannot pass on the virus because they have already killed it with their antibodies. In fact, they may be the safest people to have in the donor centre because they already have protective antibodies against COVID-19. They can’t catch it or pass it on to anyone.

In addition, these donors have been cleared by the Regional Public Health Service and rechecked by an NZBS doctor before being invited to donate.

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Who will get this convalescent plasma?

The convalescent plasma will be given to patients who look like they are about to get seriously ill with COVID-19. They will typically already be in hospital, have proven COVID-19 infection, and be deteriorating, possibly needing treatment in ICU.

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How many donors will be donating convalescent plasma?

This will depend on how many are needed for sick patients. As the pandemic increases and the number of sick patients increases, more donors will be asked to donate. When it starts to ease, we will reduce the number of donations being asked for.

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How many units are needed to treat patients with COVID-19?

The treatment dose is 500 mL of plasma. The donor’s first apheresis donation will be 500 mL, with subsequent donations of either 500 or 750 mL, depending on the donor’s body size. Each donation will be giving 1 or 1½ doses.

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How many donations will each donor be making?

This will depend on their antibody level as well as the need of the hospitals. At most, we will ask them to donate every 14 days.

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How will this plasma be stored and used?

Convalescent plasma is stored frozen, and can be stored for up to two years. Prior to being given to patients, the plasma is thawed in the hospital blood banks before being transfused.

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