In mid-July, the family of a 74-year-old male COVID-19 patient at Patna’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences was in a bind. The patient was already critically ill and had been put on ventilator support. With his condition starting to further deteriorate, his doctors said that he needed convalescent plasma therapy urgently. The family first assumed that the hospital would organise this medically prescribed plasma. The patient’s son-in-law said in a phone call from Mumbai, “We first thought the blood bank will organise plasma themselves and we will have to pay for it.” They were in for a rude shock—the hospital expected them to find plasma themselves.
More and more, doctors across India have started to prescribe convalescent plasma therapy, commonly known as simply plasma therapy, for severely ill COVID-19 patients. Plasma is taken from a person who has recovered from a disease—a convalescent—because it contains antibodies to fight the disease. It is then injected into a patient still ill with the same disease whose own immune system may not be producing antibodies. Theoretically, it should jumpstart an antibody response in the patient. Even though it has been used as a medical intervention to treat other infectious diseases in the past, there is little scientific evidence to show that it helps COVID-19 patients. Results of most clinical trials for plasma therapy, including in India, have not yet been released, but a major trial in China showed plasma therapy had no significant effect on patients.
But since the world has had just eight months of experience with this disease, doctors are deploying plasma and several other drugs as experimental tools to keep their patients alive.