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Vitalant asks people with COVID-19 antibodies to donate plasma

Wednesday is KSBY's Be A Hero blood drive
Posted at 12:08 PM, Aug 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-26 15:08:40-04

Wednesday, Aug. 26 is the 16th annual KSBY Be A Hero blood drive in partnership with Vitalant.

Due to COVID-19, KSBY was not able to host the blood drive at the TV station but locals stepped up all day to donate at Vitalant in San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria.

The drive started at 7 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m.

Wednesday morning, Vitalant officials say about 130 people had made appointments to donate blood, plasma or platelets.

Surfside Donuts provided treats for people who donated in the morning and Taqueria 805 served up free lunch and dinner for those who came later in the day.

Donors also received certificates for a free pint of ice cream at Doc Bernstein's and a free T-shirt.

Kate Yarbrough decided to donate for the first time at the KSBY Be A Hero blood drive.

"It was easier than I thought it was going to be. I also used to be really skittish of needs and that kind of pain but it didn't hurt at all," Yarbrough said. "I would say, anybody that's kind of squeamish about blood or needles, it's not as bad as you think it's going to be."

Vitalant is testing all blood donations for COVID-19 antibodies.

Donors who carry the antibodies have the chance to potentially make a difference during the pandemic.

Every week, Jake Garner spends a few hours at the Vitalant donor center in San Luis Obispo donating plasma.

"[Plasma is] the component of my blood that basically carries the antibodies," Garner said.

Garner visited family in the UK and traveled through Europe from late January to March.

"I could've contracted it in Europe but most likely, I think I contracted in the States within the international terminal," he said.

His flight back to the States was before coronavirus precautions were commonplace.

"No masks were being worn at that point, no sanitation and there were thousands and thousands of people going into LAX," Garner said.

He considers his experience with COVID-19 lucky.

"I had really mild symptoms. The shortness of breath was definitely a red flag."

After recovering from the virus, he decided to face a fear in hopes of making a difference.

"I've always had a weird thing with needles but I obviously very quickly got desensitized to the process," he said.

Each time he donates, it equals five doses of convalescent plasma for patients battling serious COVID-19 infections.

This week, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization allowing the transfusion of convalescent plasma as an investigational treatment.

While clinical trials are ongoing, it's believed the antibodies can help jump-start the immune response in someone who is fighting the virus.

"For the COVID, convalescent plasma, we are in great demand here locally and across the country," said Vitalant's laboratory manager Barbara Hoose.

She hopes more antibody-positive donors like Garner step up.

"We are focusing on convalescent plasma at this time because of the pandemic and it is urgently needed for our patients," Hoose said. "But we will happily accept any blood donation that a person is able to give because it is all needed every day."

Garner says plasma donation isn't the most comfortable process.

"I get cold specifically when the return process starts," he said.

An apheresis machine collects his whole blood, separates out the plasma and returns his red cells.

Garner says the minor discomfort is well worth the benefit to others.

"Objectively, it's probably the most valuable thing I can do with my time," Garner said. "It's a way I can give back during this, I don't know, unprecedented global time."

If you are positive for COVID-19 antibodies, you must meet additional FDA eligibility criteria before you can donate convalescent plasma.

Visit Vitalant's website to see if you qualify and register to donate.