While the world waits for a safe vaccine to fight COVID-19, physicians are treating some of the sickest patients with donated blood plasma containing antibodies to fight the disease. But doctors are concerned that the treatment is becoming politicized.

Dr. Jonathan Gerber is chief of hematology/oncology at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, where he runs a plasma treatment program. Since the program began in April, Gerber has treated 150 patients. He said there are documented benefits from treating COVID-19 patients with plasma containing antibodies from recovered patients, including a reduced mortality rate.

The first coronavirus patient treated with convalescent plasma at UMass Memorial Medical Center was Savant Mehta, who is also a physician there. Mehta became critically ill in April, just as the program was launching. His wife consented to the plasma treatment, and Mehta recovered without any complications.

Gerber said less than 1 percent of his patients have experienced complications. The Mayo Clinic is conducting similar studies and seeing successful results.

But physicians are concerned about conflicting guidance from federal agencies, as well as political speech about the treatment. They point to two different regulatory agencies, which recently delivered two contrasting decisions.

Two weeks ago, President Donald Trump praised the Food and Drug Administration after it authorized the emergency use of convalescent plasma to treat hospitalized coronavirus patients. But on Sept. 1, a National Institutes of Health panel said there was insufficient evidence for convalescent plasma, and it should not be considered standardized treatment for COVID-19 patients.

Bioethicist Art Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine and a GBH contributor, said that conflict brings the effectiveness of plasma into the political arena.

To hear the full story, click on the audio player above.