Recently, BYU-Idaho released a statement over concern from reports of students intentionally contracting COVID-19, supposedly in efforts to sell plasma for higher rates due to the demand for plasma with COVID-19 antibodies.
According to the official notice, “Individuals who have intentionally exposed themselves or others to COVID-19, with the hope of getting the disease and being paid for plasma that contains COVID-19 antibodies… will be immediately suspended from the university and may be permanently dismissed.”
Scroll reached out to the student body to investigate these claims and capture the stories of those who make money selling their plasma for money.
One anonymous student explained how when other people found out she had tested positive for COVID-19, multiple people reach out to her to see if they could also get the virus.
“One guy asked me to make out, and I was like ‘I have COVID’ and he was like ‘oh, well I think I already had it so it’s fine, and if I didn’t then I’ll just make money,'” the source said. “And then after I was out of quarantine, like the next few weeks I had people specifically ask to make out to see if they could get sick.”
Another student who wished to remain anonymous explained how a student they know has been hosting and going to parties so that he can get COVID-19 because he frequently donates plasma.
“When he found out that you can get more money if you’ve already had COVID, he was like, ‘oh yeah, I’m definitely going to get it now,” the anonymous student said. “I was furious, but also at the same time, not surprised, because that’s just the kind of guy he is. When it first started he kind of respected it when everything was shut down in march… But then when summer came, he was just like ‘Who cares, none of us have gotten sick, none of our family members have gotten sick, so we’re fine.’”
The Plasma Industry
According to NPR’s “Planet Money,” the U.S. is a world leader in blood exports. Government data shows that about 70% of global plasma collection occurs in the United States . The industry is growing and disproportionately targeting those who need financial help, including college students and single mothers, according to an Mintpress News interview with Professor H. Luke Schaefer of the University of Michigan.
“The massive increase in blood plasma sales is a result of an inadequate and in many places non-existent cash safety net, combined with an unstable labor market,” said Schaefer to Mintpress News. “Our experience is people need the money, that’s the primary reason people show up at plasma centers.”
According to a study done by Case Western, results found that 57% of those surveyed who donated plasma will make more than one-third of their income from donations.
Addison Foster, a junior studying early childhood special education, has nearly doubled her income by making an extra $200 a week donating plasma. She contracted COVID-19 unintentionally earlier this year and has since fully recovered, although she never experienced any symptoms.
Foster found out about making money from donating plasma over the summer, when her friend starting making “upward of $500 a week” from being one of the earlier donators of plasma with antibodies in the U.S.
“So I already have a job up here and I make about 250 a week already, so I make close to $2000 a month,” Foster said. “I remember I was worrying about if school closed down, what am I doing about housing, like is pricing going to go up… or different things like that. So now I don’t really have to worry about that, so I’ve just been using it to save up. I’m not a huge spender.”
However, some students are apparently still seeking to contract COVID-19 and donate plasma despite not necessarily needing the money. One anonymous source explained how someone they know is intentionally trying to get COVID-19 just for luxury purchases.
“He’s totally fine (financially). However, he really likes expensive clothes, trips, etc, so he’s always looking for great money opportunities,” the anonymous source said.
Furthermore, donating plasma typically takes a physical toll. According to healthline.com, side-effects of plasma donation commonly includes fatigue, dizziness, dehydration, bruising, and infection. Rarer, more serious side effects can include citrate reaction. According to the Case Western study, 70% of donors experienced complications after donating.
“I get sick every time I donate,” Foster said. “I’m anemic, first off… but technically I can do it. And I’m like, I’m gonna get that $200. Honestly, I would rather be in a little bit of pain after I do it and feel like crap the next few hours if I just got 100 bucks. My mom is like, ‘you should take a break,’ and I’m like, ‘no it’s fine.’”
Donations in Rexburg
Biomat USA is a plasma donation center located in Rexburg. Scroll reached out to Vlasta Hakes, corporate affairs director for Grifols, the parent company of Biomat USA, for a comment on the reports of students who might be intentionally contracting COVID-19 for plasma money.
“The first thing I’m going to say is, that for us, we don’t believe this is happening in our centers, and we do urge all donors to follow CDC guidelines to prevent the spread,” Hakes said. “We do not want people intentionally getting sick to donate plasma — it’s not worth that, and it’s not something we support whatsoever. For anyone else who has COVID-19, we do require that they at least be symptom free for 28 days or 14 days with a negative test.”
Grifols is a company that specializes in building medication and treatment for various conditions, and recently announced that their development of an anti-SARS-CoV-2 hyperimmune globulin that could potentially prevent and treat COVID-19 has started clinical trials.
“We have collected enough plasma to have enough medicine on hand for the clinical trial,” Hakes said. “Once that medicine, hopefully, is approved, then we see it as being used as the bridge until there’s a vaccine. And then, even when there’s a vaccine, we can see it being used alongside the vaccine, like for folks who don’t have the vaccine or the vaccine doesn’t work.”
Hakes was not able to comment on the profit margin that Biomat USA collects on their plasma business, referencing that it was determined by mostly market factors, but expressed gratitude for donors.
“We really should be thanking all of our plasma donors because without them, thousands of patients would not have the medicine that they need,” Hakes said. “And these patients during this time are actually more susceptible to getting COVID… so these donors are needed… It takes anywhere from 130 to 1300 donations to make enough medicine to treat one patient for one year. So we want donors coming in often; plasma is quickly regenerated in the body, it’s mostly water, so donors can come in at least twice a week with a day in between, and we need those donors to come in and be committed. So that’s why we’re providing a compensation. It’s a way to cover their time that they’re at their center, thank them for their commitment, and really show our appreciation for the work that they’re doing to help save lives.”