COVID-19 Special Coverage
FDA eases blood donation restrictions for gay men and other groups
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FDA eases blood donation restrictions for gay men and other groups

The US Food and Drug Administration issued updated guidance on Thursday, amending restrictions so that certain blood donor groups are now subject to a three month waiting period instead of a 12 month deferral.

This guidance was issued in an attempt to address the blood supply shortage that has emerged due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Blood donations from certain groups have been restricted for decades. In 1985, the FDA recommended that “blood establishments indefinitely defer male donors who have had sex with another male, even one time, since 1977, due to the strong clustering of AIDS illness and the subsequent discovery of high rates of HIV infection in that population.” This ban on donations from gay male donors was heavily criticized for adding to social stigma and homophobic attitudes. In 2015, after reviewing data about partner fidelity and the prevalence of HIV infections, this policy was amended to change the indefinite deferral to a 12-month deferral. This change did not result in an increased risk of HIV in the blood supply, and many in the LGBTQ+ community have questioned the need for any deferral.

In an attempt to encourage blood donations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and based on “recently completed studies and epidemiologic data,” the FDA is now recommending that male donors wait a period of three months between sex with another male and blood donation. This change puts the US in step with current blood donation policies in Canada and the UK.

This three month deferral recommendation also applies to other restricted blood donor groups, including female donors who have had sex with men who are engaging in sex with other men; individuals who have had recent tattoos and piercings; and individuals who have traveled to regions with malaria. The FDA is additionally recommending no deferral for individuals “who were previously considered to have been exposed to a potential risk of transmission of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.”

Although “[t]hese recommendations are expected to remain in place after the COVID-19 pandemic ends,” establishments that receive blood donations are “not required to implement the changes in the FDA recommendations.”