VUMC infectious disease expert questions effectiveness of plasma to treat COVID-19

Posted at 9:18 PM, Aug 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-25 11:33:55-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It was touted as a historic breakthrough that can help save lives in the fight against COVID-19, but one infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center says more research needs to be done.

On Sunday, President Trump and leaders from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the use of convalescent plasma as a treatment for COVID-19. The treatment uses antibodies from the plasma from patients who have recovered from the virus, to treat people currently fighting the virus.

Government officials cited a Mayo Clinic study of 70,000 patients that showed convalescent plasma reduced the death rate by 35 percent. The plasma must be donated by those who survived the infection. Dr. David Aronoff at Vanderbilt University Medical Center said while convalescent plasma is a relatively safe treatment option with limited side effects, it may be too soon to tell if it is an effective treatment option.

"Unfortunately, there has not been a control group in that study, so it's not possible to compare people who got convalescent plasma to people who did not," said Dr. Aronoff. "I think we need some randomized controlled trials to really tell us is this beneficial."

A national study is underway at Vanderbilt University Medical Center to look at the benefits of convalescent plasma for people who are hospitalized with COVID-19. It aims to include 1,000 people from across the country.

"If this is an effective therapy for COVID, this could be one of the many trials underway right now to give us some important answers," said Dr. Aronoff.

Dr. Aronoff said since the outbreak began, multiple treatment options have been considered.

Some have fared better than others. He said he was encouraged by the possibility of using convalescent plasma, but wants to see more research.

"All of us want our COVID-19 patients to fully recover without disabilities," said Dr. Aronoff. "The best and most ethical way forward when new therapeutic ideas come up is to study them in carefully controlled clinical trials."