The Food and Drug Administration relaxed its ban on donating blood from men who have sex with men on Thursday, citing “unprecedented challenges to the supply of American blood” during the coronavirus pandemic.
The new rules allow donations of blood from men who have abstained from sex with another man for more than three months; in recent years, gay and bisexual men could not donate if they had had sex with a man in the past year.
Various forms of the ban – which was first implemented in the 1980s as a total ban on keeping HIV out of the blood supply – were slowly recalled during the Obama administration, which said that screening and testing increasingly ensured a secure blood supply. Even the one-year policy has been widely criticized as a de facto ban on gay and bisexual male blood donors.
But on Thursday, Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said the new rules were conservative since blood donor centers have seen a dramatic reduction in donations due to the implementation of social distancing and cancellation of blood drives. “
“Based on recently completed studies and epidemiological data,” he added, “the FDA has concluded that current policies regarding certain donor eligibility criteria can be changed without compromising security of supply.” bleeding. “
In the race to fight the coronavirus pandemic, some medical facilities have announced their intention to collect blood plasma – a subset of whole blood containing antibodies – from those who have overcome COVID-19 and to transfuse it to patients still suffering from the disease. However, gay men have complained that they cannot help with the potentially life-saving program.
The FDA has also reduced other restrictions on blood donation, according to a statement:
- For donors who have been delayed for having sex with a man who has had sex with another man: the agency is changing the recommended deferral period from 12 months to 3 months.
For those with recent tattoos and piercings: the agency changes the recommended deferral period from 12 months to 3 months.
For those who have traveled to malaria endemic areas (and who reside in non-endemic countries): the agency is changing the recommended postponement period from 12 months to 3 months.
Alphonso David, head of the LGBTQ rights group Human Rights Campaign, applauded the new rules but said: “There is still a lot to do. “
Democrat Scott Wiener, a member of the California Senate, said in a statement that the policy was “always horrible.”
“The requirement of celibacy always irrationally discriminates against gay and bisexual men by imposing on them a condition of celibacy without imposing this same requirement on heterosexuals”, he continued, adding that “modern HIV testing technology is so precise powerful that it will detect any HIV infection that occurs 10 to 14 days or more before donation. “
Even the one-year rule had been criticized by lawmakers as being unscientific and unnecessarily biased. In 2016, several senators urged the Obama administration “to develop better science-based blood donor deferral policies, based on individual risk factors, do not unfairly distinguish a group of people and allow all Americans healthy to donate. “
It was not immediately clear whether any new rules would affect transgender people – for years, the FDA had applied inconsistent rules on transgender blood donors that effectively prohibited all transgender people from donating.