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FDA eases blood donor restrictions for gay men, others amid coronavirus shortage

The federal government is loosening restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, as well as those with recent tattoos and piercings.

WASHINGTON — With the coronavirus pandemic causing unprecedented challenges to the blood supply, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it would be relaxing some rules that restrict blood donations from gay and bisexual men and other groups. 

The FDA said Thursday that men who have sex with another man, commonly referred to as MSM, now only need to wait three months from their last sexual encounter in order to donate. Previously, they were subject to a 12-month deferral period. 

The same three-month deferral will now be in place for female donors who have had sex with a man who had sex with another man. 

Additionally, the agency has reduced the recommended deferral period from 12 months to 3 months for anyone who got a recent tattoo or piercing. The agency also reduced the deferral period for those who have traveled to malaria-endemic areas.

The new rules take effect immediately and the FDA said it expects the recommendations will remain in place even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.

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"The updated recommendations in these guidances are based on data and analysis that the FDA believes are applicable to circumstances outside of (and after) the COVID-19 pandemic and reflect the agency’s current thinking on this issue," the FDA said in a press release

A lifetime ban was placed on MSM donations in 1985 during the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis, but those rules were replaced by the 12-month deferral in 2015

The coronavirus pandemic has forced areas to cancel planned blood drives, driving the blood supply to drastically low levels. The U.S. Surgeon General has been urging Americans to go out and donate blood, if they can, to help during the pandemic. 

“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. 

"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.“ 

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