ROCHESTER, MINNESOTA - During a tour of one of the country's premier medical facilities, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday made a pitch to the 100,000 Americans who have recovered from COVID-19 to contribute blood plasma to potentially help coronavirus patients.
"Some of the doctors are saying that some people that have received the plasma therapy have recovered on respirators more quickly," said Pence at the Mayo Clinic. "We're encouraging people across the country if you've recovered from the coronavirus" to donate blood if free of the virus for more than 14 days.
Doctors at the hospital and research center told the vice president that while there are encouraging reports about plasma therapy for coronavirus patients, as of yet, there are no conclusive studies.
Pence, shortly after arriving at the facility, greeted Dennis Nelson, a Mayo Clinic health care technology management project coordinator, who was diagnosed, along with his wife, with COVID-19 at the end of March.
No recovered coronavirus patient who has been asked to donate plasma has refused, Dr. Michael Joyner informed the vice president.
"Thanks for being a part of this," Pence told Nelson, who reclined in a chair at the blood and plasma donation center amid the clacking of medical equipment. "It says a lot about you and your wife and this incredible institution."
Pence's quick trip to Minnesota amid the coronavirus pandemic was also designed to highlight increased nationwide testing of people for the coronavirus after a disappointing start compared to other countries. It also put the spotlight on research under way for tests to detect an active virus in patients, as well as confirming those who have been infected carry antibodies in their blood that could fight off subsequent exposure.
Three or four COVID-19 drug therapies are also "showing great cause for optimism," Dr. Andrew Badley, an infectious diseases specialist at the Mayo Clinic, said during a roundtable meeting hosted by Pence.
Approval for such therapeutics could come in less than 10 months, Badley explained after Pence noted every one he has spoken to has predicted a vaccine for COVID-19 is still a year away.
In recent days, however, scientists at Oxford University have indicated they may have a vaccine ready for inoculating members of the public by September.
"We're aware of the Oxford vaccine and it's one of the vaccines that we're very interested in looking at. We've been in discussions with them and that's ongoing," Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn said when asked by VOA about the vaccine on Tuesday.
The vice president faced some criticism on social media for not wearing a face mask inside the facility, where such personal protection is required.
At a roundtable discussion, Pence was the only one not wearing a mask. His staff, Secret Service agents and accompanying reporters wore masks.
Pence explained to reporters that as vice president, "I'm tested for the coronavirus on a regular basis and everyone who is around me is tested for the coronavirus."
Pence added he follows guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control that such face protection is good for preventing the spread of COVID-19 by those who are infected.
As Pence visited the Mayo Clinic, the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States surpassed one million – about a third of the world's reported total. More than 59,000 people in the country have died of the disease since February.