Amid U.S. Blood Shortage, New Pressure to Ease Donor Rules for Gay Men

Friday, January 14, 2022 — The FDA should drop a three-month sexual abstinence rule for donating blood from gay and bisexual men by the FDA, as the country grapples with a blood shortage.

Currently, based on the likelihood of HIV infection, MSM must abstain from sex with other men for 90 days before they are eligible to donate blood. It is a rule that advocates regard as discriminatory and seen by many in the medical community as an unnecessary disincentive to donating blood, NBC News mentioned.

In April 2020, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lowered the requirement for abstinence from 12 months to three months of abstinence, which was done at the urging of lawmakers and advocates as the nation faced blood shortages due to the pandemic.

This problem was raised again this week when the Red Cross announced that a spike in COVID-19 cases had caused “the worst blood shortage in more than a decade”.

This led to a call from LGBTQ advocates and nearly two dozen members of Congress for the Food and Drug Administration to drop the abstinence requirement.

“Any policy that continues to definitively exclude the LGBTQ+ community is discriminatory and wrong. Due to advances in blood testing technology and safety, the time-based policy for gay and bisexual men is not scientifically sound, and effectively continues to exclude an entire group of people,” 22 of the said. Senators in a letter to US Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and Acting Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration Dr. Janet Woodcock.

Richard Benjamin, a former chief medical officer of the American Red Cross who is now chief medical officer of biomedical products company Cerus Corp., argued. , that based on the science of HIV testing, the three-month waiting period is moot.

“If you’re HIV positive, it’s negative for the first 1-2 weeks,” Benjamin said. “So there’s a scientific reason to say, ‘Well, if there’s a risk, there’s got to be a delay.'” NBC News. “But it’s not three months – it’s more like about 10 days.”

One LGBT advocate says the reluctance to drop the rule is discriminatory.

“This is an FDA-made crisis,” Jay Franzoni said. NBC News. “They can change politics – even temporarily – and they can do it today. The only thing stopping them is bigotry and fear.”

This isn’t the first time the agency has been asked to change the rule: The Red Cross and leading medical groups like the American Medical Association have previously urged the Food and Drug Administration to lift the ban on donating to men who have sex with men.

If that happened, there would be a 2% to 4% increase — 345,400 to 615,300 pints of blood — in the country’s annual blood supply, according to the Williams Institute, a research center at the University of California Law School, NBC News mentioned.

Since the start of the pandemic, blood donations have fallen by 10%, according to the Red Cross.

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