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FDA Considers Easing Restrictions on Gay and Bisexual Men Who Want to Donate Blood

blood donation
blood donation

Getty

The Food and Drug Administration is considering easing its restrictions surrounding blood donations from sexually active gay and bisexual men amid the nationwide blood shortage.

In a statement Wednesday, the agency said it "will likely support a policy transition to individual risk-based donor screening questions for reducing the risk of HIV transmission," per CNN.

The change would require sexually active gay and bisexual men to fill out a questionnaire about recent sexual activity, among other risk factors, in order to allow individuals with no new partners in the last three months to donate blood.

Sexually active gay and bisexual men were previously banned for life from making donations, a policy that had been in place since 1983, when there was no way to test donations for HIV. That ban ended in 2015 when the FDA recommended that gay and bisexual men wait one year before making a donation.

The deferral period was later reduced to three months in 2020 amid the COVID pandemic and subsequent blood shortage. Sexually active women and straight men have no waiting period.

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The FDA's new plans come after an agency-funded study in which about 1,600 gay and bisexual men were analyzed using individualized risk assessment compared to time deferrals for maintaining a safe blood supple, The Wall Street Journal reports.

"We have a strong data set," Dr. Brian Custer, director of Vitalant Research Institute and lead investigator of the study, told the outlet. "We have highly relevant information to envision what an individual risk-based approach would look like."

As of Thursday, about 25% of community blood centers across the United States have a one-day supply or less, according to the America's Blood Centers' daily tracker.

The Williams Institute, a research center at the UCLA School of Law, reports that the annual blood supply would increase by 2 to 4% annually if the FDA lifts its current deferral period.

In a statement Wednesday, the Red Cross said it "believes blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation and is committed to working with partners toward achieving this goal."