'Potentially promising': Doctors in Philadelphia treat pediatric COVID-19 patient with plasma

It’s one of the few times a child has received convalescent plasma for coronavirus and offers tempered optimism as experts believe that this could be a possible treatment for COVID-19.
/ Source: TODAY

Doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have treated a young patient with COVID-19 using plasma donated from someone who had recovered from the novel coronavirus. It’s one of the few times a child has received convalescent plasma for coronavirus and offers tempered optimism as experts believe that this could be a possible treatment for COVID-19.

“It is a potentially promising therapy, but it is experimental,” Dr. David Teachey, a pediatric hematologist oncologist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told TODAY. “The hope is that plasma will help someone who is critically ill get better temporarily while their immune system gets better."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is leading a national effort to develop and employ two investigational therapies derived from human blood. Authorized in early April, these are called convalescent plasma and hyperimmune globulin and are antibody-rich blood products made from blood donated by people who have recovered from the virus. The products can be used to treat individuals diagnosed with COVID-19.

A plasma transfusion is much like a blood transfusion and is administered with an IV. Convalescent plasma has been used for a variety of ailments for at least 100 years, Teachey said. Doctors treated patients with it during 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, for example, and more recently for SARS. Doctors give plasma to sick patients because it contains antibodies, which the immune system uses to battle an infection. But it doesn’t always work the way that doctors hope. With some illnesses, convalescent plasma stops the body from developing its own immunity against a pathogen.

“Sometimes it prevents people from making their own antibodies, that is one of the risks,” Teachey explained.

While doctors have been using plasma as a possible treatment for COVID-19 in adults, it’s been used less often in children. That’s because so far children have fewer serious complications from coronavirus than adults. Although, there have been some notable deaths of children, including 5-year-old Skylar Herbert of Detroit, who died after developing meningitis, a complication of COVID-19.

Due to privacy concerns, Teachey declined to give an update on how the pediatric patient is responding to the treatment.

“We are fortunate we are not seeing as many critically ill children as adults. Children have the tendency, if they get critically ill with anything, to do better than adults,” Teachey said.

Doctors are closely following coronavirus patients who received donor plasma to see if it effectively treats the virus. But these therapies cannot become widespread without people donating plasma. Right now, people who have had COVID-19 and have recovered should consider giving plasma to help others.

“The only way you can give (plasma) to anyone is by people going to the Red Cross and donating plasma. If anyone had COVID-19 and completely recovered they just need to donate,” he said. “There is a backlog. There are a lot of hospitals with a lot of sick adults who need more people who donate.”

To learn more about donating plasma (or blood) people can visit the Red Cross website or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).