Chicago blood center offering free COVID-19 antibody test with donation

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CHICAGO – At 17 blood centers throughout Chicago, people can give blood for a good cause and find out if they have COVID-19 antibodies.

On Wednesday afternoon, the blood was pumping at Vitalant’s Jefferson Park Collection Center. It was a good sign considering the nation’s supply is critically low right now.

“Summer is a difficult time of year historically for blood collection,” said Holly Seese with the center. “People get busy, people want to be outside, not inside. So blood collection goes well down, it’s one of our toughest times.”

Most were regulars who turned out Wednesday and a few first-timers. But all the donors who rolled up their sleeves walked away with more than the reward of performing a good deed.

“What we’ve added to our normal screening panel is the ability to test for COVID-19 antibodies,” Seese said.

The blood supply is screened for a variety of diseases and elements, including now the antibodies. It’s a perk designed to boost donation and ultimately stock the shelves with convalescent plasma, which is a potential life-saving therapy for COVID-19.

News of the screening went over well with George Birmingham, a long-time donor.

“I don’t think I have it,” Birmingham said. “But always kind of curious like to know for sure.”

A woman named Kathy called the antibody testing a bonus.

“I thought it was interesting to find out that whether being out in the public or whatever if I do end up with the antibodies,” she said.

The extra test, which is FDA-authorized, is free and donors are notified whether they have the antibodies about two weeks after giving blood.

“Once a donor does come up with positive for COVID-19 antibodies, said Seese. “Then we do ask them if they’d like to be a plasma donor in the future.”

The test results are shared with medical researchers who hope to learn if those who carry the antibodies are protected from the virus and for how long.

So far, Vitalant has distributed 200 units of convalescent plasma to hospitals all across Chicagoland.

To donate, visit or call 877-258-4825. They have 17 blood donation centers across the area.

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