FDA Loosens Blood Donation Restrictions For Gay Men, Other Groups

Emily Loccisano

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement April 2 with revised recommendations for blood donations from gay and bisexual men, due to a drastic reduction in blood donation during the pandemic. To be immediately implemented, men who have had sex with other men (MSM) must now wait three months after their last sexual contact to donate blood, the statement says. Previously, donors were required to wait one year after their last sexual contact. 

Americans can hold their heads up today and know that our voices will always triumph over discrimination,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, says in a statement. In March 2020, GLAAD launched a petition calling for a repeal of the ban. 

The FDA has also lowered restrictions for those who recently got a tattoo or piercing and female donors who have had sex with MSM.

The FDA first implemented a life-long ban on MSM from donating blood in 1983, the New York Times reports. The ban was brought on by the AIDS epidemic, and in the following decades, the agency upheld the ban under the belief that the restriction was necessary to keep HIV from entering the blood supply. 

In 2015, the FDA revised its recommendations for blood donation, requiring MSM to wait one year after their last sexual contact to donate. The recommendations also required a one-year deferral period for those who recently got a tattoo or piercing, women who had sex with MSM, individuals with a history of syphilis or gonorrhea and intravenous drug users. 

LGBTQ+ advocates have opposed both the life-long ban and the one-year deferral period as a discriminatory policy. The petition launched by GLAAD has garnered over 20,000 signatures, with support from Sam Smith, Chasten Buttigieg and others. Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez of New York and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney have also spoken out against the one-year deferral. 

LGBTQ+ advocates hope this change in policy will pave the way for the deferral to be completely lifted. According to the FDA statement, the policy change is expected to remain in place after the pandemic. Ellis says the three-month deferral is a step forward but “remains imperfect.”

“We will keep fighting until the deferral period is lifted and gay and bi men, and all LGBTQ people, are treated equal to others,” Ellis says.

Recent blood drive cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a shortage of blood, ABC News reports. The FDA hopes the revised regulations will expand the available pool of blood donors.

“If we continue to see blood drives cancel, we are going to reach a level of inventory of which we haven’t seen in the past,” says Chris Hrouda, the president of Biomedical Services for the Red Cross. 

To donate blood, visit the American Red Cross website for more information.

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