As researchers develop COVID-19 vaccine, a plasma therapy trial is in motion nationwide

As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise throughout the United States, the pressure is on to find a vaccine. It's going to take some time.

Dr. Greg Poland of the Mayo Clinic's vaccine research team estimates a vaccine may be ready 18 to 24 months from now.

"The reason it takes so long is number one fundamentally, you’re going to inject a biologic into a perfectly healthy person to prevent possible exposure and possible disease at a possible later time, so the bar for safety should be very, very high," said Dr. Poland.

He says he knows of at least 60 potental vaccines in various stages of development. This includes his team's own vaccine, which is peptide-based so that it could be stored indefinitely. He believes in the end, there will likely be multiple vaccines on the market in order to treat multiple groups from children, immunocompromised and more.

Plasma therapy

In the meantime, a plasma therapy trial is in motion throughout the country. It's a bridge therapy that uses the plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient to help others. The recovered patient would undergo plasmapheresis to extract up to 500 mL of plasma, which contains protective antibodies, that could treat up to four COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Poland says this therapy could be used to help COVID-19 patients who are severely ill, patients that are high-risk and possibly even health care workers.

“So if they’re not immune, perhaps we could give them that immune globulin and then they could work without need for extensive PPE and could work on the front lines, so to speak,” said Dr. Poland.

This type of plasma therapy has been used in the past to treat measles, chicken pox and rabies.

However, it all circles back to time as the medical teams work to develop a vaccine.

"It's going to be a difficult year, I hate to put it this way, but re-opening initatives are going to have to be slow, careful and cautious," said Dr. Poland. "It is fundamentally a dollars or lives kind of balance and decision."