In a first for the country, the Indian Council of Medical Research has given the Kerala government permission to use plasma therapy to treat COVID-19.
The therapy will only be used as a last-ditch effort for patients who have severe symptoms of COVID-19.
“It is not a golden bullet against any infection. We will turn to Plasma Therapy, when nothing else works. It has been approved by the USFDA because there is no approved treatment or effective vaccine available for COVID-19 yet,” says Dr Aravind R, HoD, Infectious Diseases at the Trivandrum Medical College, and a member of the Kerala State Expert Committee for COVID-19.
The therapy depends on two different protocols – as part of a clinical trial, or an expanded axis protocol under compassionate grounds.
Under the latter, the patient will need to give informed consent. They will be explained the benefits and risks involved with the therapy. There will also be separate eligibility criteria with only patients having severe, life-threatening infection being allowed to undergo the therapy.
Doctors in Karnataka have also sought clearance to use plasma therapy.
How does Plasma Therapy work?
Convalescent Plasma (CP) therapy uses blood plasma from patients who have recovered from an infection. In case the convalescent donor has recently recovered, their blood plasma will contain high levels of neutralising antibodies for whatever pathogen they were exposed to, so when CP is transfused into another patient it provides instant immune response.
“This is a passive antibody therapy. Under this, people who have recovered from a particular disease, and are totally asymptomatic, are identified. After 14 or 28 days, we extract plasma from them. This plasma will contain neutralizing antibodies. 200-400 ml of this convalescent plasma is taken, and we believe that it will boost the immunity of a severely ill patient,” Dr Aravind R explains.
Researchers from China recently gave a 200ml dose of Convalescent Plasma with high levels of anti-COVID-19 antibodies to 10 patients with severe symptoms. The patients, in the age group of 34-78 years, showed significant improvement in their symptoms. Their lymphocyte count improved, liver function became better, and inflammation was reduced.
The level of neutralising antibodies in the patients also increased or remained high after the plasma transfusion.