Senators and LGBTQ rights groups are urging the federal Food and Drug Administration to allow gay and bisexual men to donate blood and plasma to address supply shortages during the coronavirus pandemic. Current FDA guidelines prohibit men who have had sex with men in the last 12 months from donating blood. Activists argue that this policy perpetuates inaccurate information about HIV transmission and stigmatizing stereotypes about gay and bisexual men.
A group of 17 senators sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn advocating for a change in blood donation guidelines in light of the COVID-19 crisis, stating, “We must take every possible step to secure our nation’s blood supply in this critical time, and in order to do so, we need to shift away from antiquated and stigmatizing donation policies to ones that are scientifically sound, based on individual risk, and inclusive of all potential healthy blood donors.”
The demand for donors has spiked during the coronavirus pandemic due to blood drive cancellations and a new focus on plasma transfusions as a treatment for COVID-19. Several companies have begun investigating the potential of using the plasma of those who have recovered from COVID-19 to treat the virus in others. Preliminary data from China on the efficacy of plasma treatments for the coronavirus is promising: of the five critically ill COVID-19 patients who received plasma transfusions, two are now stable and three have been discharged from the hospital. The FDA approved the emergency use of plasma to treat COVID-19 on March 24, but the supply of plasma from recovered patients is extremely limited.
“The FDA cannot let an outdated and discriminatory ban on blood donations from gay and bi men get in the way of potentially life-saving treatment for the country’s painful current health crisis,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, head of LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD. “Continuing to enforce this antiquated policy is dangerous, irresponsible, and flies in the face of recommendations from medical experts.”
Sources: ABC News 3/31/20; CNN 4/1/20; Forbes 4/1/20