02 November 2020

Media Release: Important changes to plasma donation criteria

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New Zealand Blood Service is making some important changes to its height and weight criteria for donating plasma and booking process for first time plasma donors. These changes are being implemented as part of a long-term strategy to grow the plasma donor registry so NZBS can meet future demand for plasma and plasma products.

From Tuesday 3rd November 2020 the updated criteria for plasma donation will be as follows:

·         New donors will be able to book plasma donation appointments straight away, even if they have not donated blood before.

·         Donors can donate plasma if:

o    they weigh 50 kg or more;

o    are 150 cm or taller;

o    meet donor eligibility criteria.

NZBS National Manager Marketing and Communications Asuka Burge says the new criteria is part of a long-term plan to ensure New Zealand can continue to meet growing demand for lifesaving plasma.

“Today we have 12,000 plasma donors on the donor registry. However, New Zealand has some big targets to meet if it’s going to be able to continue to meet demand.  In the short-term we need to grow the plasma registry by nearly 60% in the next eight months. And our forecast shows that by 2022 we will need to collect over 115,000 units of plasma per year”.

“Right now, we are needing to collect as many plasma donations per week as regular blood donations. Allowing people to donate plasma even if they haven’t donated blood before and changing the height and weight criteria are just some of the important steps we are taking to make plasma donation more accessible to a wider group of people”.

The rise in plasma demand in New Zealand is primarily due to the increased need for immunoglobulin products, also known as Ig, such as Intragam P and Evogam. Ig products are concentrated solutions of antibodies – natural proteins present in blood that are essential for stopping infection. Ig products are used to treat people with low levels of antibodies, either hereditary or through illness such as infections, and by cancers of the white blood cells and bone marrow. It’s also used to treat some autoimmune disorders. Many patients who use Ig products require lifetime treatment on a regular basis, some as frequently as once a week.

One recipient of plasma donation is seven-year-old Harry McPhail. Harry was born with X-linked agammaglobulinemia (XLA), a rare genetic disorder that means his body can’t produce mature B-cells, which produce antibodies which fight antibacterial infections. After three hospital admissions for pneumonia in his first year of life, Harry was given immunoglobulin from blood plasma which is now injected into him weekly. Although Harry will need this treatment for the rest of his life, he hasn’t been readmitted to hospital since.

“Harry is now healthy and happy, and thanks to plasma donors he lives a normal life. He’s very sporty, he loves soccer!” says Harry’s mum Marie. “It’s amazing – every week he is given these little bottles of liquid people have donated, and now he doesn’t get sick anymore. We are so thankful to the donors for giving their time and keeping Harry healthy.”

While NZBS is asking all eligible donors to come forward, some New Zealanders go above and beyond to help others. Annette Roberts gave her first blood donation when she was just 16, switching to plasma donation in 1980 on the advice of a nurse. Since then, she’s been joined in the plasma donor chairs by her husband Keith, sons Grant and Mark, and grandson Kodey. Between the three generations they have amassed over 1,000 donations, earning them a very special place in NZBS’ ‘Gold Club’, which is made up of all plasma donors.

“Doing something for someone who can’t do it themselves is brilliant – I don’t feel any different after I’ve donated, and if it saves someone who’s sick, or a child who needs a plasma-derived treatment every week to survive, it’s worth it,” says Roberts, who gave her 430th lifetime donation in October.


About NZBS: 

New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS) is a not-for-profit Crown entity responsible for the collection, processing, testing and storage and distribution of all blood and blood products in New Zealand. 

NZBS relies on voluntary and non-remunerated blood donations from individuals around the country in order to provide a constant supply of precious blood and blood products used by health services to save thousands of lives. 

What is plasma? 

Plasma is the straw-coloured ‘liquid gold’ component of blood that makes up just over half our blood. It can be used to create up to 11 blood products that help people who have lost a lot of blood through trauma, accident or surgery, those going through chemotherapy, and people with low levels of antibodies. Plasma is also instrumental in controlling autoimmune disorders and providing special clotting factor concentrates for people with bleeding disorders. 

How is plasma collected? 

Plasma is obtained through apheresis – blood is temporarily taken from the vein and put through a machine which separates the plasma, before returning the red blood cells to the donor. The process takes around 90 minutes and collects up to three times the usual volume of plasma, then can be removed in a single whole blood donation. Plasma taken in blood donation are more easily replaced by the donor than red blood cells, and larger quantities can be taken because red blood cells are returned to the donor. 

How often can I donate plasma?

Plasma donors can also give more frequently because plasma takes less time to reproduce than red blood cells. During a plasma donation your red blood cells are returned to the body, allowing people can donate up to every two weeks, as opposed to every three months.

How can I donate plasma? 

If you pass our basic plasma donor eligibility criteria you can make an appointment by completing our booking form (www.nzblood.co.nz/signup) and one of the team will contact you to find a suitable location and time to book a plasma donation. Plasma donations can be made at any of NZBS’s nine donor centres, and at selected mobile blood drives. To become a plasma donor, donors must meet plasma eligibility criteria. This includes meeting height and weight criteria and having good veins.