FILE - In this Friday, June 12, 2020 file photo, a doctor holds a bag of blood plasma donated by a COVID-19 survivor at at blood bank in La Paz, Bolivia. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of blood plasma for what’s called “emergency use” during the coronavirus pandemic, but the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday AUG. 24, 2020, cautioned that using blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat other patients is still considered an experimental therapy. (AP Photo/Juan Karita, FILE)

FILE - In this Friday, June 12, 2020 file photo, a doctor holds a bag of blood plasma donated by a COVID-19 survivor at at blood bank in La Paz, Bolivia. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of blood plasma for what’s called “emergency use” during the coronavirus pandemic, but the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday AUG. 24, 2020, cautioned that using blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat other patients is still considered an experimental therapy. (AP Photo/Juan Karita, FILE)

UN cautions that coronavirus plasma treatment still experimental

FDA’s action was announced by U.S. President Donald Trump, who called it a ‘breakthrough’

The World Health Organization on Monday cautioned that using blood plasma from COVID-19 survivors to treat other patients is still considered an experimental therapy, voicing the concern as a U.S. boost for the treatment has many scientists afraid formal studies will be derailed.

On Sunday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized what’s called “emergency use” of the treatment under its special powers to speed the availability of promising experimental drugs during a public health crisis. The action isn’t the same as approving plasma as safe and effective, and numerous rigorous studies are underway to find out if it really works.

So far, “The results are not conclusive,” WHO’s chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said during a press briefing. “At the moment, it’s still very low-quality evidence.”

Convalescent plasma is a century-old treatment that was used to fight off flu and measles outbreaks in the days before vaccines, and was tried more recently during the Ebola outbreak. When the body encounters a new germ, it makes proteins called antibodies that are specially targeted to fight the infection. The antibodies float in plasma — the yellowish, liquid part of blood — which is collected from COVID-19 survivors and given to patients infected with coronavirus.

Swaminathan said WHO considered plasma therapy to be experimental and that it should continue to be evaluated. She said the treatment is difficult to standardize: Plasma must be collected individually, and people produce different levels of antibodies.

“Of course, countries can do an emergency listing if they feel the benefits outweigh the risks,” she said. “But that’s usually done when you’re waiting for the more definitive evidence.”

READ MORE: Trump announces plasma treatment authorized for COVID-19

In a letter describing the FDA’s emergency action, the agency’s chief scientist said the treatment “should not be considered a new standard of care” for coronavirus infections, and that more data from studies will be available in the coming months.

But already, so many COVID-19 patients have requested plasma rather than agreeing to be part of a research study that many scientists fear they won’t get a clear answer on whether the treatment really works — and if it does, how and when it should be used for the best outcomes.

Martin Landray, of the University of Oxford said that while the therapy offers “huge promise,” there was still no proof it works.

“There is a huge gap between theory and proven benefit,” he said in a statement.

If just a few thousand patients took part in the research “we would have the answer,” said Landray, who is conducting a plasma study in the U.K. “If effective, convalescent plasma could be rapidly used worldwide. If not, it could be abandoned,”

Stephen Griffin, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Leeds, said there was still considerable uncertainty about the immune system’s response to COVID-19, making any potential use of convalescent plasma challenging.

The FDA’s action was announced during a Sunday press briefing by U.S. President Donald Trump, who called it a “breakthrough.”

“It appears that the lessons from hydroxychloroquine have not been learned,” Griffin said, referring to the malaria drug touted by Trump and others as a potential treatment for the coronavirus.

The FDA also granted hydroxychloroquine an emergency authorization before suspending it months later after several trials showed the drug didn’t work against COVID-19 and raised the risk of heart, kidney, liver and other problems.

____

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Maria Cheng, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusDonald TrumpUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bighorn Lodge in Revelstoke was assessed as the most valuable property in the city in 2020, coming in at $5.8 million. (Bighorn Lodge photo)
Property assessments jump by 16% in Nakusp

Property values have gone up by more than 40 per cent since 2016

Zaudanawng “Jay-Dan” Maran in his Creston home. Hanging on the wall behind him is a logo of Kachin’s Manaw festival. Photo: Aaron Hemens
From Myanmar to Creston: The story of a refugee

In October 2007, Zaudanawng “Jay-Dan” Maran and his friends encountered a woman being sexually assaulted by two Myanmar soldiers.

The trial of Harry Richardson began Monday at the Nelson courthouse. File photo
Trial of man accused of shooting RCMP officer near Argenta in 2019 begins

Harry Richardson is facing five charges in a Nelson courtroom

Gerald Cordeiro of Kalesnikoff Lumber Ltd. says the company is looking for a non-profit organization to take over and run its proposed agroforestry project. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Logging company proposes agroforestry project for Nelson area

Kalesnikoff Lumber is floating the idea of growing trees in conjunction with food crops

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Crews with Discovery Channel film as an Aggressive Towing driver moves a Grumman S2F Tracker aircraft around a 90-degree turn from its compound and onto the road on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021. It was the “most difficult” part of the move for the airplane, one organizer said. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: Vintage military plane gets towed from Chilliwack to Greater Victoria

Grumman CP-121 Tracker’s eventual home the British Columbia Aviation Museum on Vancouver Island

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talk about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. Two more cases of the COVID-19 strain first identified in South Africa have been diagnosed in British Columbia, bringing the total to three as of Jan. 16.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. now has three cases of South African COVID-19 variant, six of U.K. strain

Both variants are thought to spread faster than earlier strains

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Great Canadian Gaming CEO resigns after being accused of sneaking into Yukon for vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Police discovered a makeshift nightclub in a Vancouver apartment on Jan. 23, 2021, and say it wasn’t the first time this month officers have been called to the unit over social gathering concerns. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Doorman of makeshift ‘booze-can’ in Vancouver apartment fined; police look to court order

This marks the fourth complaint about social gatherings inside the apartment in January

A Kelowna couple welcomed their Nooner baby in December. (Flytographer)
Kelowna couple welcomes baby girl from Hotel Zed Nooner campaign

Nicole and Alex will now have 18 years of free stays at the hotel

Kyrell Sopotyk was drafted by the Kamloops Blazers in 2016 and played two seasons with the Western Hockey League club. (Photograph By ALLEN DOUGLAS/KTW)
Kamloops Blazer paralyzed in snowboarding accident sparks fundraiser for family

As of Jan. 24, more than $68,000 had been raised to help Kamloops Blazers’ forward Kyrell Sopotyk

(Pixhere photo)
B.C. dentists argue for COVID-19 vaccine priority after ‘disappointing’ exclusion from plan

Vaccines are essential for dentists as patients cannot wear masks during treatment, argues BCDA

The fine for changing lanes or merging over a solid line costs drivers $109 and two penalty points in B.C. (Screenshot via Google Street View)
B.C. drivers caught crossing, merging over solid white lines face hefty fine

Ticket for $109, two penalty points issued under Motor Vehicle Act for crossing solid lines

A registered nurse prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Yukon’s Minister of Community Services, John Streiker, says he’s outraged that a couple from outside the territory travelled to a remote community this week and received doses of COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan-POOL
Couple charged after travelling to Yukon to get COVID-19 vaccine

The maximum fine under the emergency measures act is $500, and up to six months in jail

Most Read