FDA eases ban on blood donations from gay, bisexual men amid coronavirus pandemic

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday said it would loosen some of the restrictions that have blocked gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

The new rules allow blood donations from men who have abstained from sex with another man for more than three months; for the past several years, gay and bisexual men couldn't donate if they'd had sex with a man in the previous year.

Prior to 2015, a total ban was enacted in 1983, early in the AIDS epidemic when little was known about the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) that caused the disease. The FDA re-examined the ban over the years, but had maintained that the restriction was necessary to keep the blood supply safe and untainted by HIV.

In support of its change on Thursday, the agency said in a statement that based on recent studies, it had "concluded that current policies regarding certain donor eligibility criteria can be modified without compromising the safety of the blood supply."

GLAAD, the world's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) media advocacy organization, applauded the agency's latest move on Thursday, but said they would work to lift the waiting period entirely.

"Sexual orientation or who you have sex with should not limit giving blood, and this has been proven over and over again," Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, told ABC7's Karl Schmid.

"The American Medical Association, the American Red Cross, have all come out and said there should not be a ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood," said Ellis.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, told ABC7, "We should not have a federal policy that effectively targets people based on sexual orientation. We should have a policy that is driven by science and based on risk factors."

The FDA also previously recommended that women with male sexual partners who have had sex with men in the past year not donate blood. The revisions on Thursday lowered that period to three months as well.

"We have people today who are waiting for blood. The blood supply is very low as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and people now have to wait for three months before they can actually help," David told ABC7.

The move came as thousands of blood drives nationwide were being canceled alongside the closures of schools, churches and other institutions during the outbreak. Some possible donors and volunteers have avoided blood donation centers because of physical distancing guidelines.
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