Democrats call on FDA to revisit ban on gay, bisexual men donating blood amid shortage

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A group of House Democrats is calling on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reassess its current blood donation policy that limits gay and bisexual men from donating blood as the nation struggles with a severe shortage.

Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Chairman Jamie Raskin (Md.) and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Katie Porter (Calif.) wrote a letter to the FDA on Thursday urging it to take “immediate action” to revisit the “troubling policy.”

The letter, which was obtained by The Hill, says that the existing recommendation “continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men” and “undermine crucial efforts to ensure an adequate and stable national blood supply.”

The Red Cross declared its first-ever national blood crisis in the U.S. this week, warning that doctors are being forced to make “difficult decisions” about which patients receive blood transfusions over others. It said it has “less than a one-day supply of critical blood types.” 

The letter follows one sent by Maloney and Ocasio-Cortez in 2020 with the same message, after which the FDA said it would loosen some of the restrictions that have obstructed gay and bisexual men from donating blood.

The agency changed the deferral period for donating blood for men who have had sex with another man from 12 months to three months in November 2020.

The Democrats write that while FDA’s 2020 revision was a step in the right direction, “the three-month deferral period continues to prevent gay and bisexual men from safely donating blood.”

The letter added that since FDA last updated its blood donation recommendations, other countries have allowed individual risk-based assessment for potential donors.

It further cited a new individual risk-based questionnaire introduced in England, Scotland, and Wales in June last year that facilitates safe blood donations by sexually active gay and bisexual men. 

France announced Tuesday that starting in March, gay and bisexual men in the country will no longer face restrictions donating blood. 

The Democrats asked the FDA to change the policy so that “every person who can safely donate blood in the United States has the opportunity to do so” amid the current shortage. 

In a statement to The Hill, the FDA said, “We received the letter and will respond to the House committee members directly.”

An FDA spokesperson said the agency “is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety of the blood supply,” which “depends on the implementation of donor screening measures that are based on available scientific evidence.”

“It is because of the improvements in donor screening procedures and the use of a variety of new tests in the last few years, the blood supply is safer from infectious diseases than it has been at any other time,” the spokesperson added.

The FDA said it has also initiated a pilot study intended to investigate whether donor deferral can be based on individual risk assessment. 

However, the spokesperson added that the FDA does not have a specific timeline for when these studies may be completed and it remains “committed to gathering the scientific data” that can support alternative donor deferral policies that maintain a high level of blood safety.

The current restrictions date back to the 1980s, when gay and bisexual men and other groups were considered at higher risk for HIV and AIDS transmission. 

—Updated at 3:30 p.m.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Blood donation blood transfusion Carolyn Maloney FDA Food and Drug Administration Jamie Raskin

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