The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is facing ramped-up pressure to scrap its harsh limits on blood donations from gay and bisexual men amid a dire shortage at blood banks.
Demands from lawmakers and LGBTQ+ groups come days after the Red Cross announced that it’s facing “its worst blood shortage in over a decade,” forcing hospitals to delay critical blood transfusions for patients. America’s Blood Centers and the AABB ― two other major blood donation collectors ― have raised the alarm as well.
Those groups are urgently encouraging everyone who can to donate blood, but the FDA has long made it unrealistic for men who have sex with other men to do so. Currently, the agency allows them only to donate three months after their last sexual contact, which was reduced at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic from a one-year deferral.
“As the medical community continues to express urgency for Americans to donate blood, there is still a discriminatory and unnecessary FDA policy in place that hinders healthy gay and bisexual men, as well as other LGBTQ people, from doing so, many of whom are willing and wanting to donate blood during this health crisis,” GLAAD’s chief communications officer, Rich Ferraro, told HuffPost on Friday.
“By relying on stigma rather than science, the FDA is not just harming members of the LGBTQ community, but all Americans”
– GLAAD Chief Communications Officer Rich Ferraro
The FDA first began restricting such blood donations in 1983, at the start of the HIV/AIDS crisis, when little was known about the disease except that it was prevalent among gay men. Maintaining that ban today is wrong and impractical, advocates say, especially since all blood donations, regardless of a donor’s sexual orientation, are screened to ensure healthy samples.
“By relying on stigma rather than science, the FDA is not just harming members of the LGBTQ community, but all Americans,” Ferraro said.
On Thursday, 22 U.S. senators echoed that demand in light of the blood shortage, which the Red Cross says has dwindled from a typical five-day supply of blood to less than a one-day reserve.
“While no single solution can fully solve these challenges, the FDA has the ability to take a simple and science-based step to dramatically increase the donor base and help address this crisis,” they wrote to the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services.
“Given advances in blood screening and safety technology, a time-based policy for gay and bisexual men is not scientifically sound, continues to effectively exclude an entire group of people, and does not meet the urgent demands of the moment,” the letter said.
Lambda Legal, the civil rights group focused on LGBTQ+ rights, told HuffPost it stands with the lawmakers’ request.
“We call upon the FDA to make these changes without further delay, as doing so will be a win-win: it will maximize the amount of safe blood available to those who need it, and eliminate the stigma that has cast a shadow over our nation’s blood donation policies for far too long,” said Sharon McGowan, the group’s chief strategy officer and legal director.
A 2014 study from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that removing the ban may increase the total annual blood supply by 2% to 4% a year.
That could make a dent in the current shortage. Throughout the pandemic, the Red Cross says it has experienced a 10% decline in the number of people donating blood, and it’s gotten worse during the surges associated with the delta and omicron variants. It supports lifting the ban.