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A woman finishes donating convalescent plasma in Seattle in April. Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

The FDA's controversial decision on Sunday to issue an emergency use authorization for convalescent plasma to treat COVID-19 patients has put new attention on the process of giving plasma.

Why it matters: If convalescent plasma does help mitigate the disease — a big and entirely unsettled if — then donating could be one of the most important things recovered patients could do. But the experience is a little different from standard blood donation.

Whole blood — what most of us are used to donating at blood drives — is, as the name suggests, everything in your blood: red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and plasma.

  • Plasma is the straw-colored liquid component that makes up blood. Roughly 90% of it is water, but the rest includes nutrients, minerals, hormones, proteins — and antibodies that help fight infection.

How it works: Plasma donation, though, is a little different, as I learned when giving convalescent plasma after recovering from a (thankfully mild) COVID-19 infection this spring.

  • To make a convalescent plasma donation at the New York Blood Center, I first needed to show proof of my positive COVID-19 test results, as well as indicate that I had been symptom-free for at least 14 days.
  • After an on-site test to prove that I actually had antibodies that could be shared — and a very extensive quiz about any past behaviors that might cause my blood to be tainted and rejected — I was taken into the plasma donation room.
  • There a sterile needle was inserted into my left arm (I'm right-handed), and my blood was siphoned off into an apheresis machine, where it spun in a centrifuge that separated out the plasma. The remainder of my blood flowed back into my arm.
  • The donation process was no more uncomfortable than giving whole blood — the needle does pinch, but it was longer, about 50 minutes, compared to 10 for whole blood.

Of note: If you'd rather have the process explained to you by Walter White, you can watch this video from July of actor Bryan Cranston giving COVID-19 convalescent plasma.

The bottom line: What I don't know is whether the plasma I donated made a difference for a COVID-19 patient. The science — despite the FDA's move — remains far from clear.

Go deeper

Oct 29, 2020 - World

Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases

Catholics go through containment protocols including body-temperature measurement and hands-sanitisation before entering the Saint Christopher Parish Church, Taipei City, Taiwan, in July. Photo: Ceng Shou Yi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Taiwan on Thursday marked no locally transmitted coronavirus cases for 200 days, as the island of 23 million people's total number of infections reported stands at 550 and the COVID-19 death toll at seven.

Why it matters: Nowhere else has reached such a milestone. While COVID-19 cases surge across the U.S. and Europe, Taiwan's last locally transmitted case was on April 12. Experts credit tightly regulated travel, early border closure, "rigorous contact tracing, technology-enforced quarantine and universal mask wearing" and the island state's previous experience with the SARS virus for the achievement, per Bloomberg.

Go deeper: As Taiwan's profile rises, so does risk of conflict with China

21 hours ago - Health

U.S. tops 88,000 COVID-19 cases, setting new single-day record

Expand chart
Data: COVID Tracking Project; Chart: Axios Visuals

The United States reported 88,452 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, setting a single-day record, according to data from the COVID Tracking Project.

The big picture: The country confirmed 1,049 additional deaths due to the virus, and there are over 46,000 people currently being hospitalized, suggesting the U.S. is experiencing a third wave heading into the winter months.

Top HHS spokesperson pitched coronavirus ad campaign as "helping the president"

Michael Caputo. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In September, Health and Human Services spokesperson Michael Caputo privately pitched one branch of the agency's $250 million coronavirus ad campaign with the theme: "Helping the President will Help the Country," according to documents released by House Democrats on the Oversight Committee on Thursday.

Why it matters: These are the latest documents that suggest the deep politicization of the Trump administration's coronavirus response.

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