Doctors question FDA protocol for plasma treatment of coronavirus patients

WASHINGTON — Jimmy Glenn, a one-time boxing instructor, opened his Times Square bar in 1971. The grandson of Southern sharecroppers, Glenn would keep his bar open through years of crime and grime, urban flight and terror fears. He kept it open right until mid-March, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that all eating and drinking establishments in the state had to close because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Glenn had actually stopped coming to the bar a week before the order, his son Adam Glenn told Yahoo News. His father remained “isolated at home,” with no visitors but Adam.

But somehow the pathogen found the 89-year-old. Adam Glenn says his father became sick with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in the first week of April. He was hospitalized at NYU Langone Medical Center in Manhattan on April 12.

Adam Glenn became his father’s most ferocious advocate, pushing for every conceivable treatment. “I had to learn it to get what I wanted for my dad,” Glenn recalled. Among the treatments he received was hydroxychloroquine, the much-disputed malaria drug touted by President Trump but warned against by the medical establishment. It didn’t work. Neither did anything else, and so in early May, Adam Glenn pushed NYU Langone doctors for a treatment that had worked during the 1918 influenza pandemic and many times after that: convalescent plasma.

Recovering from an infectious disease usually leaves a patient with plenty of armaments, known as antibodies, against the infection. Those antibodies can be collected in the form of convalescent plasma and transferred to someone still battling the same infection, potentially providing the crucial boost the recipient needs to recover.

What those patients may not realize is that the medical establishment remains uncertain about a coronavirus treatment that has been available to Americans for more than a month. In its understandable rush to make convalescent plasma available, the FDA did not mandate that blood banks test the blood they collect for the very coronavirus antibodies that make the treatment promising. Of the three levels of testing donated blood for antibodies, only the least rigorous — and hence the least exact — is mandated.