Today the Red Cross told Valiant News that it will not use the blood of vaccinated individuals for convalescent plasma COVID-19 treatments for use in immunocompromised patients, in contradiction to current FDA guidance, in a new statement that also contradicts their own social media posts.
Following a social media kerfuffle that saw the Red Cross responding to a verified Twitter user yesterday, claiming that blood donated by vaccinated people is in fact tested for COVID-19 antibodies for potential use in creating convalescent plasma, or CCP, which is used to treat immunocompromised COVID-19 patients.
Though the Red Cross claimed that it “may” be used, Valiant News contacted the group to determine whether it actually is being used.
In a statement given to Valiant News from Red Cross Senior Media Relations Manager Emily Osment, we discovered that the organization, in fact, does not.
Specifically, Valiant News asked Red Cross they have ever created CCP using the donated blood from a vaccinated person, if there had ever been a vaccinated person whose donation contained the antibodies required to create CCP, and if most vaccinated people benefited from the vaccine to the extent that they do not qualify.
According to Osment, Red Cross is “currently only producing convalescent plasma from donations from individuals who are unvaccinated and have confirmed a previous symptomatic COVID-19 infection.”
Differing from the explanation provided on social media, which appeared to cryptically cite Red Cross’ own bureaucratic complications, the organization’s Senior Social Media Relations Manager explained to Valiant News that the reason they won’t use vaccinated blood for CCP is because the COVID-19 vaccine does not cover all the regions of the virus, nor do the vaccinations produce antibodies against other viral proteins.
In contrast, Osment explained that a natural COVID-19 infection will generate antibodies against the coronavirus spike protein and other viral proteins, while the vaccines only produce antibodies against the spike protein.
“This is because when an individual has been infected with a virus, they produce antibodies to multiple regions of a virus,” Osment said. “If a donor has had the COVID-19 vaccine, they will generate an antibody against the spike protein but not other viral proteins, which will only occur in the event of a COVID-19 infection.”
Did Red Cross Contradict Its Tweets?
The answer and explanation given to Valiant News seem to differ wildly from what the Red Cross told a verified Twitter user earlier this week.
Book author Jennifer Sey tweeted earlier this week about her husband’s experience as a blood donor, claiming the organization that took his blood would only test unvaccinated people for what presumably would be COVID-19 antibodies.
“My husband gave blood today. They only test the unvaxxed for antibodies & if they have them, they use their blood as treatment for those at risk of adverse outcomes,” she tweeted, further questioning why the blood of vaccinated people apparently wasn’t being used.
“Why can’t they use blood of vaxxed who also had Covid? Real question for MDs. What’s wrong with vaxxed blood?” Sey wrote.
The tweet amassed over 40,000 likes and over 12,000 retweets.
My husband gave blood today. They only test the unvaxxed for antibodies & if they have them, they use their blood as treatment for those at risk of adverse outcomes. Why can't they use blood of vaxxed who also had Covid? Real question for MDs. What's wrong with vaxxed blood?
— Jennifer Sey (@JenniferSey) April 19, 2022
The American Red Cross reached out to Sey, commenting under the tweet with a series of responses that casted doubt on the FDA’s latest guidance regarding vaccinated blood donations, over what Red Cross described as “complex Red Cross system updates.”
The organization rebutted Sey’s claims that only unvaccinated blood was being tested, and further stated that donations which meet criteria set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “may” be used to treat immunocompromised COVID patients. They stopped short of confirming that the Red Cross actually uses those donations, and have since told us they do not.
“Hi Jennifer, This is untrue. We’re testing all blood product donations for COVID-19 antibodies. Plasma from donations that meet FDA criteria for convalescent plasma may be used to treat immunocompromised patients with COVID-19,” tweeted Red Cross to Sey.
Red Cross then stated that the FDA “allows” vaccinated blood to be converted into convalescent plasma, but the organization stopped short of confirming that they actually do it, and provided what appears to be a set of cryptic and vague excuses as to why they don’t, blaming “complex Red Cross system updates” that would inhibit their “ability to meet immediate needs” of immunocompromised COVID patients.
“While updated FDA guidance allows donations from those who received a COVID-19 vaccine to be processed into convalescent plasma, it would require complex Red Cross system updates & delay our ability to meet immediate needs of immunocompromised patients with the virus,” Red Cross said.
While updated FDA guidance allows donations from those who received a COVID-19 vaccine to be processed into convalescent plasma, it would require complex Red Cross system updates & delay our ability to meet immediate needs of immunocompromised patients with the virus. (2/3)
— American Red Cross (@RedCross) April 20, 2022
Without elaborating further or answering Sey’s question about what could be wrong with the blood of vaccinated people, Red Cross finished their statement by claiming that they are committed to building an adequate supply of CCP.
“We continue to evaluate the feasibility & timeline to implement the necessary changes, alongside evolving hospital needs. We’re committed to building a readily available supply of convalescent plasma to ensure patients with COVID-19 have all treatment options available,” they wrote. Users online slammed Red Cross over the statements.
Red Cross noted that they still “encourage vaccinated individuals to donate blood, platelets or plasma to help patients in need of lifesaving blood transfusions.”
As it stands on the American Red Cross website, unvaccinated and vaccinated people can still donate blood.
How Did Red Cross Make Its Decision?
On February 11, 2021, the FDA issued guidance on the use of CCP to treat COVID-19 for immunocompromised patients, barring the collection of CCP from individuals “who have received an investigational COVID-19 vaccine as a participant in a clinical trial, or received an authorized or licensed COVID-19 vaccine” to “ensure that COVID-19 convalescent plasma collected from donors contains antibodies directly related to their immune responses to SARS-CoV2 infection.”
The only exception was that vaccinated individuals were to have had received the vaccine after they were diagnosed with COVID-19 and been symptom-free for no longer than six months. Vaccinated people who did not meet the terms were deemed ineligible.
13 days after the FDA issued their guidance, on February 24, the Red Cross announced that they discontinued their CCP donation program, apparently due to data that suggested that “natural infection can decline after six months.”
“Throughout the pandemic, the American Red Cross has adapted its collection of lifesaving blood products to meet the needs of all patients—including those battling COVID-19. Currently, our primary efforts are the prioritized expansion of red blood cell and platelet collections to meet surging hospital demand and have discontinued our convalescent plasma program. We will continue to monitor the situation in the context of emerging information, evolution of the pandemic and hospital demand to determine if we should resume our convalescent plasma program in the future.”
By May 2021, the organization had restarted the program and was testing the blood of both vaccinated and unvaccinated people for COVID-19 antibodies, but they were not accepting CCP donations from vaccinated people in order to evaluate the “feasibility” and “timeline” of the FDA’s February guidance.
At this time, regular plasma donated by vaccinated Americans with high levels of COVID-19 antibodies could have theoretically been used as CCP, some have said, but Red Cross would have had to ensure that the donors were eligible so as to stay in line with the FDA guidance.
On January 7, 2022, the FDA updated their guidance, revised their previous recommendations, and permitted CCP donations from individuals who were vaccinated prior to infection. The change allowed vaccinated people with so-called “breakthrough” infections to be CCP donors.
“In sections III.B.1 and III.C.1, we now recommend that individuals qualify as COVID-19 convalescent plasma donors 10 days following complete resolution of symptoms. We also have revised the recommendations in section III.B.1 that address when individuals who have received an investigational COVID-19 vaccine as a participant in a clinical trial or received an authorized or licensed COVID-19 vaccine, qualify as convalescent plasma donors.”
It is unclear what position Red Cross took with respects to allowing vaccinated people to donate CCP from the time that the FDA updated their guidance in January to March 7, 2022, but according to their website, “Red Cross resumed testing all blood donations made on or after March 7, 2022, for COVID-19 antibodies to identify potential units that can be manufactured” into CCP.
Red Cross maintains that routine plasma donations from vaccinated people with high levels of COVID-19 antibodies, that also meet other U.S. Food and Drug Administration criteria, “may” be used to treat immunocompromised patients battling COVID-19.
“The American Red Cross has resumed testing all donations for COVID-19 antibodies, for a limited time. Plasma from routine donations with high levels of COVID-19 antibodies that also meet other U.S. Food and Drug Administration criteria may be used to treat immunocompromised patients battling COVID-19.”
Information on their website further highlights that they accept blood from anyone containing high COVID-19 antibody levels “to identify potential units” that can be converted into CCP, though the organization does not specifically confirm that said units from vaccinated people have actually been identified and subsequently converted into CCP for treatment purposes, nor have they noted that such treatment had been found to be effective.
“To help meet the needs of these patients, the Red Cross resumed testing all blood donations made on or after March 7, 2022, for COVID-19 antibodies to identify potential units that can be manufactured into CCP. Additionally, we hope that by testing all blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies, we may provide our valued donors insight into their own COVID-19 antibody status.”
The organization added in italic font that they are “not recruiting donors specifically for apheresis convalescent plasma donation.”
In their statement to Valiant News, the Red Cross did not deny testing the blood for use. They only denied actually using the blood to make CCP, ostensibly after testing it.
Given that the organization has publicly stated that converting the vaccinated blood “would require complex Red Cross system updates & delay our ability to meet immediate needs of immunocompromised patients,” and now has confirmed to Valiant News that they are not using vaccinated blood for this purpose citing a medical reason, it would appear that either the American Red Cross is operating in defiance to current FDA policy, or that the FDA policy is fundamentally flawed.
It begs the same question that Red Cross neglected to answer in their replies to Sey: “What’s wrong with vaxxed blood?”