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By Mallika Mitra
April 30, 2021
A man donating plasma at a blood center
Getty Images

It sounds like one of those "easy money" scams: Put your feet up for an hour, scroll through social media or watch some videos on your phone, get paid. But blood plasma donation is a legit industry, and becoming a donor doesn't take much effort at all.

Plasma is the liquid portion of your blood, the largest part, which contains antibodies to fight off infection. It’s full of proteins that are used to develop medicines for life-threatening diseases, but it's in short supply. It can take anywhere from 130 to 1,300 donations to make enough medicine to treat just one patient for one year, says Vlasta Hakes, director of corporate affairs at Grifols, a pharmaceutical company that makes blood plasma-based products.

Like whole blood donation — which doesn't come with a financial incentive — the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in plasma collections nationwide, so the need is even more urgent now, Hakes says.

While it may be tempting to rake in some extra cash while catching up on your favorite television show, make sure donating plasma is the right move for you — and your health — first.

Here’s everything you need to know about donating your blood plasma for money.

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How much do you get paid to donate plasma?

You don’t get paid for traditional Red Cross blood donations, since experts worry it would encourage donors to lie about their health, and potentially taint the blood supply, for a paycheck. But since blood plasma is mostly used to make pharmaceutical products — not for blood transfusions — donors can be compensated.

How much money you make depends on where you're located and how much you weigh. (Typically, the more a donor weighs, the more plasma can be collected and the longer an appointment takes.) But at most donation centers, compensation is around $50 to $75 per appointment.

First-time donors sometimes get big bonuses, too. At CSL Plasma, one of the largest plasma collectors in the world with more than 270 centers, donors can earn up to $1,100 during their first month.

At the end of each appointment, payments are added to a reloaded debit card, and can be used immediately, says Rhonda Sciarra, the director of communications at CSL Plasma. This payment method is typical for plasma donation centers.

How often can you donate plasma?

You can donate plasma more frequently than you can donate whole blood because you get some of your blood back after it's drawn and the plasma is separated from other components like red blood cells, says Amy Efantis, president and CEO of Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association (PPTA), which works with companies that make medicines with blood plasma.

The American Red Cross says donors can give plasma every 28 days and up to 13 times a year, but many private companies follow the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's (FDA) regulation, which allows people to donate plasma once every two days, or twice in a seven-day period.

Who can donate plasma?

Typically, if you’re between the ages of 18 and 65 and weigh at least 110 pounds, you can be a plasma donor. Though some donation centers have additional requirements.

No matter the location, you'll need to complete an extensive medical history screening and pass a medical examination before you're allowed to donate plasma. A screening will take place each time you donate to ensure you’re meeting the weight requirement, and that your blood pressure and iron level enable are in a safe range. At donation centers that work with PPTA, a more extensive medical exam is conducted before your first donation, and once a year after that, Efantis says. Donors will also need to get negative tests for transmissible viruses like hepatitis and HIV and have their protein and hemoglobin levels evaluated.

Be sure to call your closest donation center before visiting to make sure you qualify, and are prepared with the right documents. Thplasma, which is located in Fair Lawn, N.J., requires a government-issued identification card, a social security card or a recent W2 that has your social security number and a piece of mail postmarked within 60 days of your visit (or an electronic bill) that can prove your address, which is pretty typical of center requirements.

How long does it take to donate plasma?

When you check in for your appointment, a clinic staffer will ask you some routine personal health questions, take your vitals — weight, pulse and blood pressure — and check your blood levels with a finger prick. While you're donating, you can read, watch TV, catch up on work or just veg out.

If it’s your first time donating plasma, the visit will last around two hours, since you'll need to provide your health history and do a more comprehensive physical exam. Return visits usually take closer to an hour.

Wait times vary by location, and since donation centers are taking pandemic precautions like physical distancing, enhanced cleaning processes and temperature checks, your wait time might be longer than usual.

On most company websites, you can find a donation center near you by typing in your zip code.

You can also head to DonatingPlasma.org to find Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association (PPTA) member companies, which produce about 80% of the plasma protein therapies in the U.S., the organization says. Donation centers that meet certain standards, like extra education for new donors, get PPTA's International Quality Plasma Program (IQPP) certification — and you can search for those centers specifically on the website.

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Should I donate my COVID-19 plasma?

If you had the coronavirus and have since recovered, you have COVID-19 "convalescent plasma," which contains antibodies that could help others fight the disease.

Keep in mind that while the Red Cross and other whole blood centers collect convalescent plasma for transfusions, they don't typically pay for those donations.

Many blood plasma donation centers, on the other hand, do pay for COVID-19 plasma. Some even pay a premium: Octapharma Plasma, which has locations across the U.S., is currently running ads on its website that say COVID-19 donors can earn more money than other donors. (The company did not respond to Money's request for comment about how much more).

Are there risks to donating plasma?

The blood plasma industry is steeped in controversy. Over the last several years, critics have called out donation facilities for targeting the poorest Americans, and for paying them far less than their donations are worth (as The Atlantic pointed out in 2018, plasma donors help sustain a multibillion-dollar global pharmaceutical industry).

When it comes to a donor's personal health, however, the risks are minimal, says Dr. Scott Wright, cardiologist and a leader of Mayo Clinic’s national COVID-19 plasma therapy program.

As with a traditional blood donation, it might hurt a little when the needle goes into your arm, but that should only last a couple of seconds.

“If you have a huge phobia with needles you may feel lightheaded or have some anxiety, but the staff at most donation centers are equipped to help with that fear,” Wright says.

Before you head to your appointment, make sure you’ve drunk plenty of fluids. Always let the screener know if you've had any recent surgeries or medical conditions, are taking any medications or have gotten a tattoo or piercing in the last year, since all of these activities can lead to medical complications.

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