With all individuals above 45 becoming eligible for COVID-19 vaccination starting from April, medical experts want a review of a recent National Blood Transfusion Council order temporarily barring vaccine beneficiaries to donate blood. While there is no known scientific rationale stated by the NBTC behind this order, there has been a dearth of blood supply in government and private-run banks since the onset of the pandemic and the following lockdown period. And experts fear this order would further aggravate the situation.
Other than thalassemia patients, patients suffering from bleeding disorders, anaemia, chronic kidney disease, pregnancy complications and trauma need blood.
As approved in the 30th meeting of the governing body of the NBTC held on February 17, the deferral criterion for blood donation post COVID-19 vaccine was finalised as "28 days post-vaccination deferral after the last dose of COVID-19 vaccination irrespective of the type of the vaccine received". This means all vaccine beneficiaries in India cannot donate blood until the 29th day they take the second dose of the vaccine.
Dr Narsima Swamy, medical in-charge of Rotary TTK Blood Bank, run by the Bangalore Medical Services Trust said that with the onset of the second wave, blood donations which were inching back towards normalcy have again gone back to crisis levels.
He explained, “Blood can be donated by healthy people of 18-65 years of age. This order will further affect the blood reserves badly. From April 1, all persons above 45 will be eligible for a vaccine, so many donors will be default due to this rule.”
Speaking to TNM, Dr Anant Bhan, bioethics and global health policy researcher, noted that throughout the pandemic, there has been a shortage of blood in blood banks across the country. He said while the decision might have been taken as a measure of abundant precaution it might inadvertently affect those needing blood for various reasons.
“The kind of vaccines that we are using in India does not seem to indicate that there will be any problem with blood transfusion. This will become more relevant once the vaccination drive becomes open for all age groups. Global evidence seems to indicate there should not be an issue. So if in absence of this evidence, this order should be relooked,” he told TNM.
“If the evidence is contra-indicating or if there is any evolving evidence of potential harm, we can always go back and reinstate this order. Otherwise the NBTC should come up with evidence to rationalize their decision or if they have other concerns, they should make that available in the public domain citing any clinical study or medical literature,” he added.
Similarly, Dr Vinay D, Infectious Diseases Physician at Apollo Hospitals in Bengaluru questioned this move by NBCT. “I am not certain about the logic and reason behind it. The vaccines available in India are safe enough even for blood donations. Maybe this order is to wait and check the adequate amount of antibodies built in the body or to see how it benefits the donor,” he told TNM.
He added, “According to UK regulations the wait is upto 7 days. The deferral rule is going to affect the blood donations process.”
Meanwhile, Alphonse Kurian, coordinator of a Bengaluru-based blood donors for Lions Club has written to NBTC seeking a relook of the February 17 order. In his letter he cited a notification by American Association of Blood Banks which stated that mRNA vaccines do not need any deferral and only live vaccines need a deferral period of 14 days.
“As there are no live vaccines in use in India, we request that this decision by NBTC may please be reviewed scientifically and the decision to defer COVID 19 vaccine donors be re-considered in the interest of the community at large. The risk of COVID transmission vis-a-vis severe dip in blood donation across the country needs to be weighed against each other,” he wrote.