Blood donors to receive free COVID-19 antibody testing from South Texas Blood & Tissue Center

Community blood center offering test over summer to thank donors
June 6, 2020

To thank donors for coming out to give, the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center (STBTC) will provide free COVID-19 antibody testing for all blood donations this summer, from June 8 - Aug. 31. Test results will be mailed to donors within 14 days of their donations, which are by appointment only.

QualTex Laboratories, which like STBTC is a subsidiary of San Antonio-based nonprofit BioBridge Global, will perform the tests. Results will show if the donor has been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 by looking for antibodies the immune system produces in response to the virus.

The antibody test is not a diagnostic test and is not intended for people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or believe they may be infected, since it does not test directly for the virus. Anyone with symptoms is asked to remain home and to contact his or her physician.

“We have had many calls and emails asking about antibody tests, so we’re pleased to be able to offer this as a thank-you to blood donors,” said Elizabeth Waltman, Chief Operating Officer, South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. “We hope this encourages more people to give blood, to help address blood shortages caused by the continued cancellations of blood drives, as organizations deal with new coronavirus guidelines and staff working from home.”

Donors with a positive antibody test may be eligible to donate what is known as “convalescent plasma,” which can serve as a treatment for patients fighting COVID-19.

STBTC, which began collecting convalescent plasma and providing it to hospitals in April, is part of a nationwide study sponsored by the Mayo Clinic. Preliminary studies of the use of convalescent plasma have shown promising results.

The antibody test, produced by Abbott Laboratories, will indicate if the donor’s immune system produced antibodies, even if he or she never had any symptoms of COVID-19.

There have been questions regarding the accuracy of some COVID-19 antibody tests, but many of those are “point of care” tests designed to produce a quick result, said Scott Jones, Vice President, Scientific Affairs at BioBridge Global.

“Blood screening tests like the one we have are going to be the most accurate,” he said. “They are much more sensitive, and the fact that they are so highly regulated means we can trust them much more.”

The test is not being done to check the blood supply for the coronavirus, since it is a respiratory virus that has not been shown to be spread via blood transfusion.

There are no special requirements for the test – donors simply need to give blood at any STBTC donor room or drive and meet the everyday blood donor requirements.

Donors can call 210-731-5590 or visit SouthTexasBlood.org for more information on the program, or to schedule an appointment or locate a blood drive or a donor room. All blood donations are by appointment only.

Blood centers have established multiple procedures and practices to keep donors safe while giving blood. Those precautions, along with recommendations for staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, are at SouthTexasBlood.org/Coronavirus.