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WASHINGTON — Responding to a blood shortage sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration eased restrictions Thursday on allowing gay and bisexual men, sex workers, drug users, and people with tattoos and piercings to donate blood.
Until the pandemic ends, the FDA has green-lit blood donations from male donors provided they say they haven’t had sex with another man in the last three months. That’s a change from the previous policy, which didn't allow blood donation sites to accept blood from a man who has had sex with another man within the last year.
People of other genders who have had sex with a man who has had sex with another man will also be allowed to give blood if that activity happened outside of the last three months.
“We want to do everything we can to encourage more blood donations, which includes revisiting and updating some of our existing policies to help ensure we have an adequate blood supply, while still protecting the safety of our nation’s blood supply,” Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.
This is the first time in five years that the guidelines have been changed for blood donations from men who have same-sex intercourse. Before 2015, the group had been banned from giving blood altogether since 1983, because of fears that they would be more likely to contract and pass on HIV/AIDS.
The rules change comes after loud criticism from gay or bisexual men and advocacy groups. A recent petition from GLAAD that called for ending the antiquated policy gathered more than 20,000 signatures.
“The FDA’s decision to lower the deferral period on men who have sex with men from 12 months to 3 months is a step towards being more in line with science, but remains imperfect,” GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. “We will keep fighting until the deferral period is lifted and gay and bi men, and all LGBTQ people, are treated equal to others.”
The growing need in health care facilities and cancellations of blood drives because of the pandemic and social distancing has led to a severe shortage of blood. The American Red Cross estimates that 80%of its blood donations come from these blood drives, and by mid-March, more than blood drive cancellations had resulted in more than 86,000 fewer donations.
In a major reversal, the FDA also changed its rules regarding donations from sex workers and drug users. People who admitted exchanging sex for money or drugs or using intravenous nonprescription drugs used to be banned outright from donating. Now they can donate blood provided they didn’t engage in that activity within the last three months.
The rules were also scaled back from 12 months to three months for people who got tattoos or piercings — but they are eligible to donate immediately, as they had been under the old policy, if the tattoo was done by a state-regulated entity with sterile needles and non-reused ink and unless the piercing was done using single-use equipment.
The ban was scaled back from 12 to three months for people who had completed treatment for syphilis or gonorrhea or had a blood transfusion.
Bans were similarly scaled back for people who have a history of sexual activity with someone who had a positive test for HIV, ever exchanged sex for money or drugs, or ever engaged in nonprescription injection drug use.
The American Red Cross website has a list of licensed blood donation centers. You can find one near you here.
Cover: Sugin Quang donates at a blood drive hosted by the Richard Nixon Presidential Library to help meet the urgent demand for donations amid the coronavirus outbreak across the United States in Yorba Linda, Calif., Tuesday, March 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)