After Pakistan, US follows suit, plasma treatment authorized for COVID-19 patients

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American authorities announced on Sunday an emergency authorization for doctors to use blood plasma from recovered coronavirus patients as a treatment against the disease that has killed over 176,000 in the US.

The move by the Food and Drug Administration comes as President Donald Trump faces intense pressure to curb the contagion that has hobbled the world’s largest economy and clouded his once-promising prospects for re-election in November.

Plasma may help infected individuals in the fight against coronavirus

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The plasma is believed to contain powerful antibodies that can help fight off the disease faster and help protect people from being seriously hurt by it.

Read more: Plasma treatment: Breaking myths, substantiating evidence & clarifying confusions

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“This product may be effective in treating COVID-19 and… the known and potential benefits of the product outweigh the known and potential risks of the product,” FDA said in a statement.

While the treatment has already been used on patients in the United States and other nations, the extent of its effectiveness is still debated by experts and some have warned that it could carry side effects.

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“Convalescent plasma probably works — though it still needs to be proven in clinical trials — but not as a rescue treatment for people who are already severely ill,” said Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

He said that plasma would likely work much better right after a person was exposed to the virus, when the body is trying to neutralize the infection — the problem being that plasma supplies are limited, meaning it would be difficult to get enough to treat everyone in early stages of the disease.

Trump facing a tough re-election promotes plasma as a cure for COVID 

President Donald Trump on Sunday announced emergency authorization to treat COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma — a move he called “a breakthrough,” one of his top health officials called “promising” and other health experts said needs more study before it’s celebrated.

Read more: World class breakthrough! Pakistani scientists find treatment for Coronavirus

The announcement came after White House officials complained there were politically motivated delays by the Food and Drug Administration in approving a vaccine and therapeutics for the disease that has upended Trump’s reelection chances.

On the eve of the Republican National Convention, Trump put himself at the center of the FDA’s announcement of the authorization at a news conference Sunday evening. The authorization makes it easier for some patients to obtain the treatment but is not the same as full FDA approval.

The blood plasma, taken from patients who have recovered from the coronavirus and rich in antibodies, may provide benefits to those battling the disease. But the evidence so far has not been conclusive about whether it works, when to administer it and what dose is needed.

Read more: Potential COVID-19 vaccine secures 5 billion+ pre-orders

In a letter describing the emergency authorization, the chief scientist for the FDA, Denise Hinton, said: “COVID-19 convalescent plasma should not be considered a new standard of care for the treatment of patients with COVID-19. Additional data will be forthcoming from other analyses and ongoing, well-controlled clinical trials in the coming months.”

But Trump had made clear to aides that he was eager to showcase good news in the battle against the virus, and the timing allowed him to head into his convention with momentum. He and aides billed it as a “major” development and used the White House briefing room to make the announcement.

Trump also displayed some rare discipline in the evening news conference, sticking to his talking points, deferring to the head of the FDA, Stephen Hahn, and only taking three questions from reporters.

Trump told reporters the therapy shows “an incredible rate of success” and “will save countless lives”, but this went much further than his own health officials’ cautious welcome of the treatment.

Challenged by a reporter to explain the apparent contradiction, Trump passed the question to one of his experts, then ended the press conference.

The FDA already allowed convalescent plasma transfusions for coronavirus patients under certain conditions, such as clinical trials and gravely ill people.

Read more: After animals, Russia is all set to test coronavirus vaccine on humans

The Washington Post said that over 70,000 virus patients in the US have received such a transfusion.

Trump has been widely criticized for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, which remains the world leader in infections and fatalities.

He faces a tough re-election battle against Democratic challenger Joe Biden, with no effective treatment or vaccine expected before the vote on November 3.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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