The updated policies will also impact donors who have recently been tattooed or pierced, as well as those who have visited malaria-endemic areas or regions with recent mad cow disease outbreaks. Anna Fedorova_it/Shutterstock
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has lifted its stipulations on gay and bisexual blood donors in an attempt to address the “urgent and immediate” need for blood donations around the country.
In March, blood banks around the US announced they could soon face blood shortages due to nation-wide drive cancellations in response to state-mandated social distancing requirements. The revised recommendations follow suit with updated guidance policies from several other countries, including Canada and Great Britain, that shorten the time a gay or bisexual man must wait before donating blood.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented challenges to the US blood supply. Donor centers have experienced a dramatic reduction in donations due to the implementation of social distancing and the cancellation of blood drives,” writes the agency in a statement.
Male donors who have had sex with another man are now recommended to wait three months from their most recent sexual contact before donating, updating previous government guidance that required a year-long deferral period. The same goes for female donors who have had sex with a man who previously had sex with another man. The revisions were based on recently completed studies and epidemiological data, according to the FDA. The changes will be put forth for immediate implementation and will stay in place until after the pandemic ends.
The American Red Cross says that it is “pleased with this change as an important first step toward our greater goal of an inclusive and equitable blood donation process” that “ensures a safe, sufficient blood supply is readily available for all patients in need.” The organization has historically opposed the policy, stating that it believed blood donation eligibility should not be based on sexual orientation. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation also supports the revised recommendations, calling it a “victory” for LGBTQ+ people.
The FDA also lowered the deferral period to those who have recently been tattooed or pierced, as well as those who have traveled to malaria-endemic areas or regions that have seen a recent outbreak of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), or “mad cow” disease.
“People who donate blood are part of our critical infrastructure industries. More donations are needed at this time and we hope people will continue to take the time to donate blood. We have also encouraged, and continue to encourage, state and local governments to take into account the essential nature of donating blood – and that it can be done safely and consistently within social distancing guidelines – when considering travel and business restrictions, and we encourage them to communicate that to their citizens,” writes the FDA.
Maintaining an adequate blood supply is “vital to public health” as many communities are preparing for worst-case-scenario surges in public health needs related to COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Other serious injuries and conditions still require life-saving blood in light of the pandemic, such as victims of car accidents and burns as well as those battling cancer and other life-threatening diseases.