Today, the Red Cross is testing each blood donation for COVID-19 antibodies. During this uncertain time, we know that individuals and public health organizations are eager to learn more about COVID-19. And the Red Cross is uniquely positioned to offer our blood donors insight about their possible exposure to this coronavirus.
Implementing this free antibody testing to the public is costing the Red Cross an estimated $3 million per month, but the positive impacts — offering our blood donors insight about their possible exposure to this coronavirus — and providing valuable public health information – are important contributions in addressing this ongoing pandemic.
This fall, our team at the Illinois Red Cross spoke with Dr. Larry Goodman, President Emeritus – Rush University and Retired CEO, Rush University Medical Center and the Rush University System for Health, to explore why antibody testing and convalescent plasma collection is so important to our hospitals and public health systems, and how the Red Cross has worked hard to create strong partnerships with medical systems here in Illinois and around the country. The Red Cross has been the blood supplier to Rush University Medical Center for over 25 years.
Dr. Goodman is currently President Emeritus of Rush University and the retired CEO of Rush University Medical Center and the Rush University System for Health. He was a Greater Chicago Red Cross board member from 2006-2011. He says Rush’s partnership with the Red Cross is a natural fit.
“We (at Rush) see people often at the worst moments of their life, like the Red Cross,” Dr. Goodman explains. “But if you drew a diagram of where these two organizations impact the community, they overlap. Not perfectly, but complimentary. Both organizations recognize that health is far more than just treating disease (or responding to a disaster) when it occurs; it is also about prevention. Additionally, it’s about neighborhood safety, education, and the many other factors that contribute to forming healthy communities. And these building blocks to health must be available to everyone because they all factor in to extending people’s lives. It’s the basic idea of how we measure the health of our society.”
How Your Antibody Test Could Help Those in Need
Dr. Goodman’s background as an internal medicine and infectious disease physician offers him a wealth of knowledge on how the Red Cross is working together with hospital partners in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this fight against the coronavirus, Red Cross antibody tests will be helpful to identify individuals who have COVID-19 antibodies, which suggest they have been previously infected. This is useful knowledge for them and provides additional data on monitoring the extent of the disease in our community. Additionally, these previously infected individuals may qualify to be convalescent plasma donors. Convalescent plasma is a type of blood donation collected from COVID-19 survivors who have antibodies that may help patients who are actively fighting the virus. Right now, requests to the Red Cross from hospitals for convalescent plasma is outpacing our collections of this potentially useful treatment.
“When we’re infected with organisms, we make antibodies to those organisms,” Dr. Goodman explains. “We make a small army that is sent out to destroy the virus. However, it takes 10-14 days to make antibodies. During the period that antibodies are produced, you are left with your other host defenses, like white blood cells and other factors, to stave off infection. If we could find a way to get patients antibodies earlier during that 10-14 day window, it might make a difference. So if somebody already made those antibodies against COVID-19 and survived the infection, we can draw blood off (the convalescent plasma), separate the blood and antibodies, and infuse that into the ill person to be available in the early days of infection prior to that patient’s own antibody formation.”
While logical, the efficacy of convalescent plasma is still under investigation in the treatment of COVID-19, but it has been useful in other illnesses. This is the same concept behind the recently released monoclonal antibody therapies. Dr. Goodman believes it has been important that the Red Cross paved the way in offering this antibody testing free of charge to donors because of its trusted brand and reputation in communities.
“The Red Cross has a great reputation, and I think it comes back to some of the values of impartiality, neutrality, and commitment to the community,” Dr. Goodman explains. “Those are values that every organization is reexamining. The Red Cross makes a major effort to serve diverse populations and that’s very valuable.”
“People remember who’s showing up,” Dr. Goodman said. “The Red Cross shows up to fires or floods, regardless of where they occur. To have a nonprofit also participate in answering critical research questions that might lead to new therapies concerning this pandemic is another important contribution added to the invaluable gift of blood.”
New Red Cross Blood Donation Site Opens in Heart of Illinois Medical District
With the addition of The R. Scott Falk Family Blood Donation Site (Falk family pictured left), located at The Rauner Center, right in the heart of Chicago’s medical district, the Red Cross is able to collect convalescent plasma and test every blood donation for COVID-19 antibodies, while also ensuring that our hospital partners receive these and other critical blood products as swiftly as possible. Considering most of the blood that hospitals like Rush uses comes from the Red Cross and the density of hospitals in and near the Illinois Medical District, this proximity is critical.
“Timing is important with most types of blood transfusions,” Dr. Goodman says. “Availability is critical. Hospitals can’t keep all the blood they need on hand. They can go through 10-20 units in a transplant. In addition, this new site has capabilities that weren’t available previously in the medical district. Different kinds of blood products are now available. Almost all the blood products from Rush come from the Red Cross. There are also trauma centers at Stroger and other nearby centers. There’s a lot of need. Minutes mean everything. It’s a valuable use of the space at the Rauner Center.”
Now more than ever, the need for blood remains constant. Emergencies don’t stop during COVID-19, and every donation makes a direct impact on people that can’t wait for lifesaving blood.
“This is the time. While COVID-19 happened and is a dominant factor in health care and our everyday lives, while all that is happening, all the rest of the chronic and acute illnesses continue,” Dr. Goodman explains. “People still have heart attacks, tumors, strokes, and need organ transplants. Blood transfusions remain a critical need and something that has become more acute at a time like this. That same critical quality of life, which is blood, has so many capabilities in it. This is a moment when people try to decide what they can do. There’s a lot they can do to reduce their own risk and improve the health of the community through blood donation to ensure that the supply is there when any of us might need it.”
Need for Blood and Convalescent Plasma Donors
The Red Cross is encouraging individuals who have fully-recovered from COVID-19 to give convalescent plasma but, most importantly, if you are healthy and feeling well, we encourage you to donate blood. Visit redcrossblood.org to schedule your appointment today. To learn more about donating convalescent plasma, visit redcrossorg/plasma4covid.
Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager