One Saturday in mid-April, a group of Orthodox Jewish leaders held a conference call with a Minnesota doctor as they grappled with spiking coronavirus cases in their New York area communities.
Dr. Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic is leading a nationwide study on the use of blood plasma to treat patients with severe COVID-19. On the call that afternoon, he told the religious leaders he needed something for his research: more blood from people who have survived the virus.
“Do what you can,” Joyner said, according to Yehudah Kaszirer of Lakewood, New Jersey, one of the rabbis on the call.
About 36 hours later, Kaszirer boarded a private jet with roughly 1,000 vials of blood stored in coolers. It had been drawn from members of the community through a blood drive organized with military-like speed.
The blood would be taken to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and tested for antibodies.
“It felt like being on a godly mission,” Kaszirer said.
And, as it turned out, a very successful one. Roughly 60 percent of the plasma samples were found to contain antibodies.
Since that overnight flight, Orthodox Jews in Kaszirer’s community and others across the country have provided an extraordinary quantity of antibody-rich plasma for the U.S. government supported COVID-19 expanded access program, accounting for roughly half of the supply used to treat 34,000 people, Joyner said.
“There’s no way we’d be able to treat so many people without them,” he told NBC News. “They were the straw that serves the drink in a lot of ways.”
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) July 13, 2020