Health and Wellness

FDA loosens the gay blood ban in response to coronavirus pandemic

A hand in a latex glove holding a blood sample
Photo: Shutterstock

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued new guidelines that will allow more gay and bi men to donate blood as blood donations drop due to the global pandemic.

In a statement posted to its website, the FDA announced that men who have sex with men can donate blood three months after the last time they had sex, reducing the deferral period from 12 months. Women who have had sex with men who have sex with men can also donate three months after sex instead of 12 months.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges to the U.S. blood supply,” the FDA said in its policy statement. “Donor centers have experienced a dramatic reduction in donations due to the implementation of social distancing and the cancellation of blood drives.”

In the past few months, almost 50 members of Congress have sent multiple letters to the FDA asking the agency to revise the policy, citing the lack of blood donations due to pandemic, with over 4000 blood drives that have been canceled in the U.S. and an estimated 130,000 blood donations that have not been made.

Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), in their letter to the FDA, said that easing restrictions on gay and bi men who want to donate blood could provide an additional 615,000 pints of blood each year.

The new policy follows the U.K. and Canada, which also have three-month deferral periods for men who have sex with men, and is similar to France and Denmark, which have four-month deferral periods.

Some countries, like Argentina, Italy, and Spain, don’t ban men who have sex with men from donating blood at all. The countries moved to a system of individualized risk assessment as early as the year 2000; instead of turning away potential donors because of the gender of their partners, they screen by sexual practices.

Argentine Health Minister Daniel Gollán said in 2015 that their policy was “scientifically and technically accurate” because it replaced the old concept of defining risk by demographic groups instead of behavior.

The FDA also reduced the deferral period after tattoos and piercings and travel to countries with high rates of malaria from 12 months to three months in its new policy yesterday.

The American Red Cross interpreted the previous ban as preventing transgender men who have sex with men from donating blood but not transgender women who have sex with men.

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