The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to participate in drug and plasma trials in an attempt to combat the coronavirus, the agency announced Friday.
The clinical trials and investigations will take place nationwide and are aimed at "finding ways to mitigate or potentially prevent symptoms of the coronavirus," VA said in a news release.
“We’re in a position to do things that no one else in the world can do to improve the health of our veterans, the nation and the world,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “VA is bringing all of its expertise to bear during this crisis, and now we’re leading the way on research into pharmaceuticals and treatments that could improve the lives of thousands of patients.”
VA, the largest integrated healthcare system in the country, serves about 9.5 million patients -- or about half of America's veterans. About half of VA's patients are 65 or older, a population at higher risk for the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
VA plans to work with the Mayo Clinic, which is studying whether blood transfusions from people who recovered from the virus could help those still fighting it. Plasma from COVID-19 could contain antibodies that may help patients still experiencing symptoms.
More than 60 VA medical centers are "prepared to perform transfusions of this plasma to COVID-19 patients," VA said.
The Food and Drug Administration approved expanded access to plasma transfusions from recovered COVID-19 patients earlier this month. Patients who have fully recovered for at least two weeks are encouraged to consider donating plasma, according to the FDA.
One study showed that veterans treated with the drug were more likely to die.
Veteran advocates criticized VA, accusing the department of using veterans as "test subjects" for the drug, which Wilkie denied.