Historic blood shortage fuels calls for FDA to ease restrictions on gay men donating blood

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1/15/22

Pressure is mounting on the Food and Drug Administration to eliminate longstanding restrictions on gay or bisexual men donating blood in the United States as the blood shortage reaches a dire level. Twenty-two U.S. senators penned a letter to the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services Thursday, urging them to replace the “discriminatory” rule that requires gay and bisexual men to abstain from sexual activity for three months before donating blood. “We must adopt evidence-based policies focused on assessment of an individual’s risk, not inaccurate and antiquated stereotypes,” they wrote. The group of senators also requested a briefing in the next month on the agency’s plan to update its blood donation policies. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, also added to calls this week, saying the current policy is “outdated” and that it “does not reflect the state of the science, and continues to unfairly stigmatize one segment of society.” The American Red Cross announced Tuesday the U.S. is experiencing a national blood crisis for the first time ever and asked Americans to consider donating blood immediately. The nation’s blood reserve, which typically holds a five-day supply of blood, has dwindled to a less than one day reserve. The FDA, which is responsible for the regulatory oversight of America’s blood supply, first imposed a ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood in 1983, during the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The FDA amended the policy in 2015 to allow them to donate blood after abstaining from sexual activity for one year. The wait was shortened to three months in April 2020, after a drop-off in donations during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. A 2014 study from UCLA’s Williams Institute estimated that lifting the ban entirely could “increase the total annual blood supply by 2%-4%, adding from 345,400 to 615,300 pints of blood each year.” One pint of blood can save up to three lives.

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