Doctors were to use plasma therapy only on those who had moderate disease, preferably within seven days of symptom onset. The doctors were to take the plasma from a plasma donor with a high concentration of antibodies.
Even though doctors were doubtful, they still continued to use antibody-rich plasma from recovered Covid-19 patients. They used it on those infected during the second wave of the pandemic. People literally queued up at plasma banks and started looking for donors online. But a recent Canadian study published in a journal called Nature that plasma therapy did not help in Covid treatment. On the other hand, it increased the risk of severe adverse events. The number of deaths was also higher among those who received the therapy.
The study was titled ‘Convalescent plasma for hospitalized patients with COVID-19: an open-label, randomized controlled trial’. It was carried out among 940 patients among which 33.4% received plasma therapy. They reported serious adverse events like falls in oxygen saturation and respiratory failure. It was compared to 26.4% in the control group who did not receive the therapy. The number of deaths on day 30 was also higher in the people who received the plasma therapy. It was 23% as compared to 20.5% in the control group.
A study conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) showed that the therapy did not reduce mortality. Nor did it prevent progression to severe diseases. This happened as early as September 2020. However, the therapy continued to be used on the national treatment protocol till May 2021 albeit with some restrictions. In Delhi, the therapy was dropped from the national treatment protocol. Still, the plasma banks that were set up by the state government continued to function. But, on the bright side, they did not actively seek donations anymore.
Dr. Suresh Kumar is the medical director of the Lok Nayak hospital. It is where one of the plasma banks is located. He said, “The plasma bank is still running. It has benefited only if given on time- it has been used extensively not only in India but in the US as well. None of the studies from India has shown an increase in mortality, even if some of them were doubtful of the benefits. The availability of the therapy has become controlled now, but doctors may prescribe it if they think it will benefit the patient.”
There was the ICMR’s PLACID trial conducted across 39 cities in over 400 Covid-19 patients last year. It showed that the therapy did not prevent progression to severe disease or reduce the number of deaths on day 28 of patients’ enrolment. A senior scientist from the apex health research body said, “The ICMR has already demonstrated long back that it does not have ant beneficial effect.”