Due to the unprecedented demand for blood supplies in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has announced a significant loosening of eligibility for blood donations from gay and bisexual men.
The organisation is now suggesting that the time that men who have had sex with men should wait before they give blood, to be reduced from 12 months to three months in the hope of stemming the drastic drop in supply during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges to the U.S. blood supply,” the FDA statement read.
“Donor centres have experienced a dramatic reduction in donations due to the implementation of social distancing and the cancellation of blood drives.
“At the FDA, we want to do everything we can to encourage more blood donations, which includes revisiting and updating some of our existing policies to help ensure we have an adequate blood supply, while still protecting the safety of our nation’s blood supply.”
Based on recently completed studies and epidemiologic data, the FDA has concluded that current policies regarding certain donor eligibility criteria can be modified without compromising the safety of the blood supply.
“The FDA is making the following changes, for immediate implementation, to the December 2015 guidance:
- For male donors who would have been deferred for having sex with another man: the agency is changing the recommended deferral period from 12 months to 3 months.
- For female donors who would have been deferred for having sex with a man who 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 is changing the recommended deferral period from 12 months to 3 months.
The earlier 12-month waiting period was intensely criticized as discriminatory and antiquated when the F.D.A. introduced it in 2015 to replace a lifetime prohibition on blood donation by gay and bisexual men.
That ban was enacted in 1983, early in the AIDS epidemic when little was known about the human immunodeficiency virus that caused the disease. The F.D.A. re-examined the ban over the years but had maintained that the restriction was necessary to keep the blood supply safe and untainted by H.I.V.
LGBTQ advocates applauded the agency’s latest move but said they would work to lift the waiting period entirely.
“LGBTQ Americans can hold their heads up today and know that our voices will always triumph over discrimination,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and chief executive of GLAAD, said in a statement.
“This is a victory for all of us who spoke out against the discriminatory ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood.”
At the time of publishing the NZ Blood Service has not responded to requests for comment on whether local regulations will also be changed.