Senators called on the FDA to lift restrictions that keep gay and bisexual men from donating blood amid 'severe' shortage during coronavirus outbreak

  • In a letter to the Food and Drug Administration, 15 Senators urged the agency to reevaluate its restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.
  • Current rules dictate that men who have sex with men must be celibate for a year before they can donate blood.
  • The letter comes on the heels of pleas by top public health officials urging healthy Americans to donate blood as isolation concerns in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak have led to what the American Red Cross called a "severe" shortage amid thousands of canceled blood drives and donations.
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A group of Senators released a letter urging the federal government to lift rules that restrict gay and bisexual men from giving blood amid a critical donation shortage in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Current rules dictate that men who have sex with men must be celibate for a year before they can donate blood. The policy was established in 2015 as a major development to a rule established in 1983 that banned men who have sex with men from donating for life.
Advocates have since pointed out that the rule's origin, which stems from concerns over HIV transmission from gay and bisexual men, isn't consistent with current tests for HIV that can detect the virus in a sample within 11 days after infection.

The remaining restriction was dismissed by 15 Senators who wrote to the Food and Drug Administration that it was part of the "antiquated and stigmatizing" policies around blood donations that should be reconsidered.

"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 letter said.

The letter referenced concerns aired by top public health officials like Surgeon General Jerome Adams who urged healthy Americans on March 19 to give blood, saying that blood centers were open and "safe" places, even in the social distancing orders announced to counter the coronavirus outbreak.

Adams's call came days after the American Red Cross reported that the isolation measures encouraged across the US had resulted in 2,700 canceled blood drives and a loss of 86,000 donations.Ahead of the Senators' letter, LGBTQ advocates and interest groups had pushed for the FDA to reevaluate its guidelines for gay and bisexual donors, but the agency told the LGBTQ newspaper Washington Blade on March 19 that rules "have not changed," but it would "continue to re-evaluate the situation as the outbreak progresses."

"FDA is aware there has been a dramatic reduction in blood and plasma donations around the country," a spokesman told the outlet. "The agency is working with the blood banking and source plasma industries to encourage healthy people who wish to help to donate blood."

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