More than 600,000 military-connected Americans affiliated with the Tricare health plan were told in error Friday that they had been diagnosed with COVD-19.
The individuals and families were in the military health system’s East Region, according to Military.com.
The foul-up began when beneficiaries received an email that began with some very jarring news.
“As a survivor of COVID-19, it’s safe to donate whole blood or blood plasma, and your donation could help other COVID-19 patients,” the email stated.
The email then went on to explain itself.
“Your plasma likely has antibodies (or proteins) present that might help fight the coronavirus infection. Currently, there is no cure for COVID-19. However, there is information that suggests plasma from COVID-19 survivors, like you, might help some patients recover more quickly from COVID-19,” it said.
A few hours later, Humana Military, which manages Tricare across 31 states and the District of Columbia, tried to calm the waters it had roiled.
“In an attempt to educate beneficiaries who live close to convalescent plasma donation centers about collection opportunities, you received an email incorrectly suggesting you were a COVID-19 survivor. You have not been identified as a COVID-19 survivor and we apologize for the error and any confusion it may have caused,” Humana’s email said.
According to Military Times, Marvin Hill, Humana’s corporate communications lead, said the company apologized “for the confusion caused by the original message.”
The initial, potentially panic-inducing message went to some of those living near a plasma collection facility and was not based “on any medical information or diagnosis,” Hill said.
Plasma from individuals who have had COVID-19, which is called “convalescent plasma,” can be used as a possible treatment for the disease.
“As a part of an effort to educate military beneficiaries about convalescent plasma donation opportunities, Humana was asked to assist our partner, the Defense Health Agency. Language used in email messages to approximately 600k beneficiaries gave the impression that we were attempting to reach only people who had tested positive for COVID-19. We quickly followed the initial email with a clear and accurate second message acknowledging this. We apologize,” Hill said in a statement, Military Times reported.
Donors are needed to fuel a study about the effectiveness of convalescent plasma.
“Our goal is to encourage all personnel who have fully recovered from COVID-19 to donate their convalescent plasma as a way to help their friends, family, or colleagues who may be suffering from the disease now or who may contract the disease in the future. The need is now,” Army Col. Audra Taylor, chief of the Armed Services Blood Program, told Military Times.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved convalescent plasma as an investigational therapy in March for those hospitalized with the illness, and more than 35,000 patients in the U.S. have received it.
To date, there have been “encouraging reports and a lot of mechanistic reasoning that in fact convalescent plasma may be helpful,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration, according to Military Times.
“These studies are being done as we speak … we need donors. Blood drives are ongoing, and the U.S. government will be trying to accelerate these drives for convalescent plasma,” Woodcock said.