Orthodox Jews, who were impacted by the coronavirus early on in the pandemic, are helping people fight COVID-19 now.
Recovered coronavirus patients from Orthodox Jewish communities have been donating blood plasma to the Mayo Clinic, which is leading a nationwide study on using blood plasma to treat coronavirus patients, NBC News reports.
The effort began in mid-April. A group of Orthodox Jewish leaders jumped on a conference call with Dr. Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic, who was leading the study.
He asked the community for help. He needed more blood from people who recovered from the virus.
Rabbi Yehudah Kaszirer of Lakewood, New Jersey, was on the call. He told NBC News 36 hours after the call he boarded a private jet with about 1,000 vials of blood stored in coolers.
Orthodox Jews had come together for a blood drive to help the study.
“It felt like being on a godly mission,” Kaszirer said.
About 60% of the donated blood plasma samples contained virus antibodies, what the study required.
Rabbi Yehudah Kaszirer is the director of nonprofit Bikur Cholim. The nonprofit provides intermediary services between healthcare providers and members of the Orthodox Jewish community. The group organized the convalescent plasma donation drives.
Since the first batch of plasma was donated, Orthodox Jews across the country began donating plasma.
Joyner said their donations have helped treat 34,000 people so far.
“There’s no way we’d be able to treat so many people without them,” Joyner told NBC News. “They were the straw that serves the drink in a lot of ways.”
Orthodox Jewish communities were ravaged by the coronavirus early on in the pandemic because they gathered in crowds and didn’t wear masks or social distance.
“They had a high rate of infection, which was terrible, but they decided to do something about it,” Joyner said. “And they used their social cohesion and organizational and logistical skills to make it happen.”
Dr. Israel Zyskind, a pediatrician in a Brooklyn neighborhood, said there were few cases in the U.S. in early March when the holiday of Purim took place.
“When Purim was around, we didn't know anything about social distancing, about mask wearing,” Zyskind, who practices in Borough Park, said. “Nobody wore masks. Nobody knew to stay indoors and not be with your families ... There were very few cases in the United States.”
Zyskind said the community turned their experience with the virus into a positive one by participating in blood plasma drives.
“Because we were ravaged by COVID so early on, we recognized that we had the opportunity to give back to the scientific community and to our fellow brothers who are suffering,” Zyskind said. “We don't just care about ourselves. We care about everyone, and we will do what we can.”
The plasma donated by the Orthodox Jewish communities is being used in several ways. Some virus patients are receiving transfusions of the antibodies. About 8,000 vials of blood serum have been donated for use by scientists at 10 institutions across the world. Many are working on figuring out why the virus is so deadly for some people and not for others.
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