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Norquist Highlights DOD Efforts to Produce COVID Treatments

Nov. 16, 2020 | BY Jim Garamone , DOD News

Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist thanked blood plasma donors and the workers who collected it for their work in combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Norquist spoke at the Defense Health Agency — the Department of Defense agency tasked with leading this effort. He also went to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to personally thank the donors.

Close-up of a technician drawing blood.
Blood Work
A lab technician draws blood from the arm of a patient holding three empty blood vials.
Photo By: Marine Corps Cpl. Patrick Crosley
VIRIN: 200605-M-UY835-1007C

The coronavirus pandemic called for a departmentwide effort and involved even those who came down with the virus.

Early on, scientists identified COVID-19 convalescent plasma — or CCP — as a tool needed to develop potential treatments to decrease the severity of the illness and aid in recovery of patients who had become infected with COVID-19, according to Health Agency officials. 

CCP comes from the blood of individuals who had the virus and recovered.

In mid-April, the DOD began its effort to collect and manufacture the plasma. In late May, senior DOD officials announced a goal of collecting 8,000-10,000 units of CCP. 

The Defense Health Agency built on the foundation laid by the Armed Services Blood Program. Norquist celebrated the success of the campaign with the current amount at 10,745 units — and counting.

"I congratulate you for achieving thousands of units in such a short amount of time — that is no small feat. It is a testament to your hard work to conduct daily collections at blood donor centers and your willingness to venture into hot spots for mobile blood drives. It also would not be possible without the generosity of the approximately 3,000 donors who participated in the campaign," Norquist said.

Norquist praised those who participated acknowledging the "selfless act of volunteering to collect or donate convalescent plasma."

Scientists are still examining the plasma and its use in treating the disease. But current findings are that CCP is "both safe and promising," he said. The plasma is the first widely available antibody-based treatment for coronavirus.

Vials of blood in a tray.
Blood Vials
A lab technician picks up two vials of blood.
Photo By: Marine Corps Cpl. Patrick Crosley
VIRIN: 200605-M-UY835-1012C

"I am truly grateful to the donor center staff and headquarters personnel who made this drive a success, as well as our DOD men and women who stepped up to help their fellow Americans during this pivotal moment in time," he said. "DOD has supported our national coronavirus response in many ways, and yours is worthy of applause."

Norquist — who serves on the coronavirus task force — highlighted the department's efforts to produce protective gear and other equipment and that they are where they need to be. He noted that the DOD has helped more than 130 different nations fighting the same scourge.

He also spoke about the efforts military medical first responders have made in hard-hit U.S. cities and towns. He praised National Guard personnel for their efforts to test and support their fellow citizens in every state and territory.

Finally, he touted the DOD's vaccine efforts — from groundbreaking work by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency aimed at speeding development and manufacture of vaccines, to the logistical support from the military in Operation Warp Speed. 

More must be done, he said, but it is a good start and there is the possibility of 300 million initial doses of the vaccine being delivered by the end of the year.