The Biomat USA Plasma Center at Discovery Drive takes students only two minutes of driving from UCF'S main campus to reach. Zachary Greist is …

Zachary Greist was looking for a way to make extra cash during the pandemic when a friend told him about an opportunity to make $100 in an hour.

The 19-year-old looked for the closest plasma center near him and began to donate regularly.

"My friend said there were places near UCF that would pay you to donate your plasma and I sort of jumped at the opportunity," Greist said. "I thought it was kind of ironic that they called it a donation, considering they'd be paying for it."

There are nearly 20 for-profit plasma centers in the Orlando area alone, and at least four of those centers are within 15 minutes from campus.

“I’m leasing a car right now because the prices dropped due to the pandemic, so going eight times a month pays off double my car payment,” Greist said. “The center is close to campus and I make around four to five hundred going regularly so it’s actually paying off my car when I go.” 

According to a Edvisors survey in 2016, more than 60% of U.S. college students run out of money before the end of their first semester. For some students, the choice to make anywhere between 50 to 100 dollars two days a week may seem more lucrative than a traditional job.

Greist said selling his plasma to collection centers is worth it in the long run because the extra cash helps him out when he needs it. UCF students posting on Reddit have shared similar sentiments, citing the payments they received for their plasma as footing the bill for gas, groceries, and other necessities.

According to the Orlando Biomat USA website, the center currently only accepts donors who are employed in the Orlando area, and more notably students affiliated with a local college or military. The company's advertisements have included billboards displaying students paying for their textbooks with plasma money and Facebook posts calling for students to bring in their school ID for an added bonus. 

“Even when you’re working, it can be hard to make sure you’ve got enough money at the end of the month to cover everything. Plasma just helps you cover it,” Greist said.

According to author Neil Goss in "The Economics of Plasma Fractionation", the United States is unique in that students can be allowed to donate twice a week, every week. Other countries regulate donations to numbers as low as 45 per year.

The health-risks for long term frequent donations such as the ones Greist participates in are also not well-known, which according to the NHS Blood and Transplant website can include short-term side effects of fatigue, dehydration, bruising, and citrate reaction. 

“I’m okay with the health risks,” Greist said. “I know they tell you that you might feel a little shaky or tired afterwards, but it’s not too bad for me.”

Megan McGeough, a junior economics major, said she quit donating plasma after a negative experience during her last appointments.

“I don’t currently donate plasma; the worker blew out my vein twice and caused a very bad reaction so now I’m kind of traumatized,” McGeough said. “The issues I have had with plasma donation centers were the issues that I had with my health.”

McGeough said she understands why students are drawn to the practice, as she herself used to refer friends for an additional payout as well as receiving her own compensation.

“The reason I was donating before was the extra financial help,” McGeough said. “As a broke college student, it was nice to have 60 dollars for an hour of my time. I was going twice a week for about six months.”

According to a letter of authorization released by the Food and Drug Administration, the federal agency issued an Emergency Use Authorization on Aug. 23 allowing for the use of COVID-19 convalescent plasma for the treatment of hospitalized patients with COVID-19.

Students who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have antibodies can earn up to $100 for their plasma. Adrianna Acheampong, a freshman environmental studies major said she receives $100 for her positive diagnosis and has donated twice after having recovered.

“I knew that they needed COVID plasma for COVID patients specifically, so I figured I might as well donate,” Acheampong said. “It's good to know I'm helping people, but I also really needed the extra cash.”

With the legal age for plasma donation starting at 18, students continue to populate for-profit centers and recommend the practice to others.

“It’s a pretty decent process,” Acheampong said. “I’ve told other people about it, other students. And all I had to do was look up plasma centers near UCF, and they all popped up.”

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