FDA eases restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men during coronavirus pandemic

WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday updated its guidelines on blood donations from gay men to better meet the demand for blood during the coronavirus pandemic.

Male donors who have had sex with another man within the past three months should not donate, the FDA said. That abstinence period was decreased from the 12 months previously recommended.

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

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The policy for female donors who have had sex with a man who had sex with another man to wait to donate blood was also reduced to three months from 12 months, as well as for people who got recent tattoos or piercings.

Blood donation guidelines for gay men were first implemented as the HIV/AIDS crisis unfolded in the 1980s and initially constituted a lifetime ban for gay men. That was revised in 2015 to the one-year restriction, but many LGBTQ rights advocates have long considered these restrictions to be discriminatory.

Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said on Twitter that this is a "step forward," but "more needs to be done."

"While this change by the FDA is a step in the right direction, it still bases itself in bias rather than science," David said. "Creating a policy based on identity as opposed to risk is irrational and given the current COVID-19 crisis, it is more critical than ever to prioritize science and facts over fear and bias."

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"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 agency said.

The updated recommendations are for immediate implementation, the FDA said, and are expected to remain in place at least through the pandemic. Blood establishments do not have to change their policies to comply with the new FDA recommendations. 

"We believe these updated recommendations will have a significant and positive impact on our blood supply," the FDA said.