FDA eases blood donation restrictions for gay men, others amid shortage caused by coronavirus

WASHINGTON -- Facing an urgent need for blood donations, the Food and Drug Administration has relaxed rules restricting blood donations from gay men and other groups.

Men who have sex with another man now only need to wait three months from their last sexual encounter in order to donate. They were previously subject to a 12-month deferral period.

The same three-month deferral period now applies to female donors who had sex with a man who had sex with another man as well as those with recent tattoos and piercings.

The agency also reduced the deferral period for those who have traveled to malaria-endemic areas.

"These changes are being put forth for immediate implementation and are expected to remain in place after the COVID-19 pandemic ends, with any appropriate changes based on comments we receive and our experience implementing the guidance," Dr. Peter Marks, the director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a news release.

The U.S. and many other countries have long restricted donations from gay and bisexual men and several other groups due to the risk of spreading HIV through the blood supply. In 2015, the FDA moved from a total ban to the one-year abstinence period for men who have sex with men.

Gay rights groups have continued to challenge that policy, saying it's unnecessary given current testing technology and continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men.

"LGBTQ Americans can hold their heads up today and know that our voices will always triumph over discrimination," GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. "This is a victory for all of us who raised our collective voices against the discriminatory ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood. 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. We will keep fighting until the deferral period is lifted and gay and bi men, and all LGBTQ people, are treated equal to others."

Donated blood is screened for a number of infectious diseases, including HIV. The new coronavirus can't be spread through blood.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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