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FDA Shortens Waiting Period for Gay, Bi Men to Donate Blood

Medical officials say the COVID-19 pandemic has created a critical shortage of blood for transfusions at U.S. hospitals. (NewAfrica/Adobe Stock)
Medical officials say the COVID-19 pandemic has created a critical shortage of blood for transfusions at U.S. hospitals. (NewAfrica/Adobe Stock)
April 3, 2020

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Opponents of a longtime rule limiting gay and bisexual men's ability to donate blood say a change in U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations is welcome, but doesn't go far enough.

The ruling shortens the waiting period to donate blood for these groups of men from one year to three months since their last sexual encounter with another man. Blood banks in Arizona were still enforcing the one year ban yesterday, and were vague about when they might follow the new rule.

Alphonso David - president of the Washington, DC-based Human Rights Campaign - says they've worked for years to transform the policy.

"The Human Rights Campaign has long advocated for a policy that evaluates donors based on individual risk behaviors of every donor, rather than on their identity," says David.

The original ban, instituted at the height of the AIDS scare in the 1980s, prevented any man who engaged in homosexual activity from ever donating blood. The waiting period was shortened to one year under the Obama administration.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer advocates say it's wrong to turn away healthy men who want to donate blood during the nation's critical shortage. Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin calls the one year rule discriminatory and points out that it wasn't based on science.

"It shouldn't have taken a pandemic, and the resulting urgent blood shortage to make progress on this issue," says Baldwin.

Dr. David Hardy, an infectious diseases researcher and adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, says he has long been frustrated about regulations based on fear rather than facts.

"So, I think that was some progress today," says Hardy. "I'm glad to see the science is being followed. That is the best way to create public health policy and do away with the prejudicial way that health care has been handled in our country to date."

Officials with Vitalant, an Arizona-based blood supplier, say more than 200 blood drives were canceled across the state in the first weeks of the pandemic. Yesterday, the company said it is revising its health questionnaires, and would announce any changes in its procedures in the next few days.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ