WESTERLY, R.I. (WPRI) – Three COVID-19 patients at Westerly Hospital are receiving plasma infusions from people who have recovered from the virus, the hospital’s parent company announced Tuesday.

Yale New Haven Health said the plasma donations were obtained through the New York Blood Center, but Rhode Island patients who’ve recovered from the disease are also being encouraged to donate.

“We are extremely pleased to be able to offer this treatment as an option for our patients,” said the study’s lead investigator for Westerly, Dr. Mudassar Khan, in a statement. “The premise is that the donor’s immunity can be passed on to the recipient.” 

All of the Yale New Haven Health hospitals are participating in the national clinical trial, overseen by the Mayo Clinic. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the protocol to administer the experimental treatment.

The plasma is collected from people who have recovered from COVID-19 and are asymptomatic.

In a virtual news conference on Tuesday, Dr. Tom Balcezak, chief clinic for Yale New Haven Health, said the theory is that plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients can provide the ill with antibodies to fight the virus.

“Now that’s a theory,” he said. “It works in other diseases.”

The hospital said plasma therapy has been used in the past to treat viruses like SARS and Ebola, but it will require more research to tell how effective it will be in cases of the novel coronavirus, according to Balcezak.

He said preliminary data from the Mayo Clinic study suggests it might work in severely ill patients.

“It’s not the gold standard, but it’s encouraging, and a little bit of encouraging news I think given the fact that there are no treatments yet for this disease is very welcome,” he said.

He also noted that in some cases of COVID-19, the body’s immune response can go into overdrive, causing the disease to be worse. The trial will attempt to determine when and how to administer plasma as a treatment.

Westerly Hospital is currently treating seven COVID-19 patients, according to a spokeswoman.

People in Rhode Island who are recovering from COVID-19 and want to donate plasma should contact the Rhode Island Blood Center. The donor’s blood type must match the recipient’s.