UPDATE: On April 2, the FDA posted new guidelines reducing the deferral period for men who have sex with men from donating blood and plasma from 12 months to 3 months.
In a statement, GLAAD President and CEO, Sarah Kate Ellis said, “LGBTQ Americans can hold their heads up today and know that our voices will always triumph over discrimination.”
“This is a victory for all of us who raised our collective voices against the discriminatory ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood,” she continued. “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.“
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave permission last week for doctors to use plasma from coronavirus survivors as an experimental treatment for patients who become moderately ill from the virus. But most gay and bisexual men who have recovered from the virus won’t be able to donate their plasma.
According to the New York Times, blood from people who have recovered may be teeming with antibodies, proteins created by the immune system to attack the virus. The approach has been used for decades in treating many infectious diseases like influenza and Ebola.
Vineet Menachery, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, told the Times, “Four to six or eight weeks after infection, their blood should be full of antibodies that will neutralize the virus and that will theoretically limit the infection.”
Although there aren’t any controlled studies to quantify the treatment, there have been reports from China regarding the approach being used on a small number of patients there.
U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and other health officials are asking for increased blood donations due to the ongoing COVID-19 threat, but the FDA is holding firm on its policy which exempts gay and bisexual men who have had sex with men in the last 12 months from donating blood of any type. The ban also applies to women who have had sex with bisexual men in the past year.
Those requirements were established years ago due to fears of HIV infection through blood transfusions even though such thinking is now out-of-date with modern methods.
The Red Cross has said that “blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation.”
And 17 U.S. senators have issued a public letter asking the FDA to review its current policy.
The letter, signed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker, encourages the FDA to “shift away from antiquated and stigmatizing donation policies to ones that are scientifically based.”
Additionally, GLAAD and several LGBTQ organizations have launched a petition calling for the ban on gay and bisexual men to be lifted.
The petition currently has over 17,000 signatures.