America is in urgent need of blood donations during the coronavirus pandemic, so the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it will relax donor restrictions placed on gay and bisexual men and others.
Specifically, the FDA has changed the abstinence period required for gay and bisexual blood donors from 12 months to 3 months.
"We know that reducing the deferral period for men who have sex with men [MSM] can significantly increase lifesaving blood donations, prevent drug shortages and help reduce harmful stigma experienced by the MSM community," U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said during a Thursday afternoon media briefing.
The coronavirus pandemic has reduced the number of people giving blood because of fears of contracting the virus at blood donation centers and canceled blood drives, he said.
"In addition to encouraging and allowing more healthy individuals to donate blood, we also want to make a plea for those individuals who have had COVID-19 and recovered to consider donating blood as well," Adams said. "We're looking at ways that plasma from these individuals can help shorten the length or lessen severity of illness in patients with COVID-19."
The same abstinence relaxation change also applies to women who have had sex with a gay or bisexual man and people who have had recent tattoos.
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 spoke out 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."
Also, people who have traveled to areas where malaria is endemic can now donate blood after 3 months, not 12 months, the FDA said. These people can also donate blood without a deferral period as long as their blood has been treated with an FDA-approved pathogen reduction device.
The FDA has also eliminated the waiting period for people who spent time in certain European countries or on military bases in Europe that might have been at risk for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
All these changes will remain in effect even after the pandemic is over, the agency says. Blood banks, however, are not required to comply with these changes.
The FDA is also encouraging people who have gotten over COVID-19 to donate blood. They are eligible to donate when they have been clear of symptoms for two weeks or more. And like most respiratory viruses, there's no evidence that COVID-19 can be passed via blood.
The primary concern is having the virus pass from person to person in a donor center. These centers are practicing social distancing to prevent people from catching the virus.
"It's critical that we all consider donating blood," Adams said. "A single blood donation can save up to three lives. So, I encourage you all to think about it. Talk about it with your friends. Make an appointment to give blood today -- giving blood is something that is guaranteed to lift your spirits."
For more on LGBTQ blood donations, head to the American Red Cross.