Despite calls for increased blood donations amid the coronavirus crisis, the Food & Drug Administration is staying firm on its ban prohibiting gay men from donating blood.
“At this time, FDA’s recommendations regarding blood donor deferral for men who have sex with men have not changed, but we will continue to reevaluate the situation as the outbreak progresses,” a spokesperson told the Washington Blade Thursday.
The FDA is sticking with the ban, which prohibits men who’ve had sex with men in the past year from donating blood, in the aftermath of an impassioned call from U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams for blood donations.
“One thing we should all consider, especially our millennials and Gen Z, is donating blood,” Adams said. “As an anesthesiologist who still practices at Walter Reed, taking care of our wounded warriors and our soldiers, I know donated blood is an essential part of caring for patients, and one donation can save up to three lives. Blood centers are open now and in need of your donation.”
In 1983, the FDA had implemented a lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. During the Obama administration in 2015, that policy was eased to a ban on donations from men who’ve had sex with the men in the past year — but restrictions nonetheless remain in place.
Among those calling on the FDA to take action amid the calls for blood donations was Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of the LGBTQ media watchdog GLAAD.
“The antiquated ban that still prevents gay and bisexual men, and men who have sex with men from donating blood must immediately be lifted by the @US_FDA,” Ellis tweeted.
Proponents of lifting the gay blood ban have said the policy isn’t necessary because advanced testing would screen blood from HIV-positive people. Further, they say the policy is stigmatic toward gay men and diminishes the blood donation supply.
The FDA is sticking with the ban, the spokesperson said, at the same time it needs increased blood donations amid the coronavirus crisis as well as heightened concerns about the lack of available hospital beds and equipment.
“FDA is aware there has been a dramatic reduction in blood and plasma donations around the country,” the spokesperson said. “The agency is working with the blood banking and source plasma industries to encourage healthy people who wish to help to donate blood. People who donate blood are like those people working in a critical infrastructure industry.”
According to the FDA, the 12-month deferral period currently in place is “a first step” in a process of evaluating blood policies for all potential donors.
A blood safety surveillance system, per the FDA, is looking at whether more than half of the blood collected in the United States is fully operational and providing data that will inform additional changes in policy.
In March 2019, FDA’s Blood Product Advisory Committee held an open session to discuss blood donation policies regarding MSM. The committee reviewed information, but didn’t vote on specific issues.
The White House didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether President Trump would call on FDA to lift the ban amid the coronavirus crisis.
In terms of Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joseph Biden has said in LGBTQ policy platform he’d implement a policy “based on science” with regard to gay blood donations, but stopped short of calling for lifting the ban. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a spokesperson told the Blade, would “end the ban, period.”