The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it's relaxing some restrictions that prevent gay men from donating blood amid a supply shortage brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, ABC News reported.
The FDA's recommended deferral period for men who've had sex with another man is changing from 12 months to three months, the network said.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams called the move "tremendous" and potentially life-saving as overall blood donations have fallen and hospitals face shortages as people stay home and blood drives are canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak, ABC News said.
The American Red Cross said last month nearly 2,700 blood drives — where the organization gets more than 80% of its blood donations — had been canceled due to the pandemic, The Hill reported.
"It is critically important we have rationally and scientifically based blood donation deferral periods," Adams said on a call with reporters, the network reported. "In particular, we know that reducing the deferral period for men who have sex with men can significantly increase life-saving blood donations, prevent drug shortages, and help reduce harmful stigma experienced by the MSM community."
"MSM" is an acronym for gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. The Centers for Disease Control indicates this population is "disproportionately impacted by syphilis, HIV, and other sexually transmitted diseases."
The revised guidelines also allow former sex workers and injection drug users to donate blood after a three-month deferral, Bloomberg Law reported, adding that the latter groups hadn't been allowed to donate blood at all in the past. The outlet also said people with recent tattoos or piercings can donate blood after three months instead of a year.
"Based on recently completed studies and epidemiologic data, we've concluded that the current policies regarding the eligibility of certain donors can be modified without compromising the safety of the blood supply," Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a statement, according to ABC News.
The new guidelines will remain throughout the pandemic and will be updated to incorporate public comment within 60 days of the emergency being lifted, The Hill reported.
ABC News said Democratic senators and gay rights advocacy groups in the last week have called on the federal government to loosen the blood-donation restrictions.
"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, according to the network. "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."
Twitter commenters reacting to the loosened restrictions traded barbs about discrimination and safety. A number of them defending the move indicated that donated blood is tested before transfusions. Indeed the CDC says "all blood for transfusion is tested for evidence of certain infectious disease pathogens, such as hepatitis B and C viruses and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)."
But others aren't convinced, with one detractor saying "this isn't a good idea":
Image source: Twitter