DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has changed its blood donor eligibility and will no longer ban men solely for having sex with other men, expanding the population of potential donors at a time when blood centers are scrambling to build the blood supply to pre-pandemic levels.
The FDA is emphatic, however, this will not jeopardize the safety of the blood supply.
Mark Pompilio, Public Relations Manager for the Community Blood Center, says, “It is not a change that anyone is making out of political correctness or what anyone might want to assume. This is strictly a decision based on solid science and research.”
Make no mistake, gay and bisexual men donating blood has been a political and social issue as well as a public health concern for over 40 years.
Pompilio acknowledges the public and political history of the issue, “It was in the 80’s in the height of the aids epidemic, men who had sex with men were banned from donating, entirely.”
That lifetime ban remained in place for more than two decades. The social fear of transmission of HIV or AIDS in the 80’s was very real. The science community was scrambling to understand and contain HIV and AIDS and to ensure the blood supply was safe.
The Director of the Greater Dayton LGBT Center, Rick Flynn says, “I think at the time, when HIV and AIDS first came about, everybody was scared, but I think we’ve learned a lot more since then.”
The FDA’s policy has changed over that time. Initially, men who had sex with men were permanently banned from donating. That had been trimmed to a three month deferral. Now, the FDA has eliminated time-based restrictions altogether.
“There’s been blood centers all across the country that have taken part in the research of this topic”, according to Pompilio, “to evaluate what risk presented itself for men in committed relationships from freely giving blood. The risk was miniscule.”
Gay and Bisexual men will now go through the same screening process as all donors in which eligibility will be based on behavior.
The FDA and blood centers maintain the blood supply is safe. Regardless of what is or is not volunteered during the screening process, all blood donated goes through a strenuous screening process for diseases like HIV.
Post-Covid, blood supply has still not returned to pre-pandemic levels. The new policy opens up donations to another portion of the population, which could help restore blood supply to a safe level.
Pompilio says it’s time. “There was an awareness that at a time when donors were needed more than ever, why are we putting unnecessary obstructions in the way of someone who wants to donate.”
Flynn agrees, adding, “I think that we have more and more medical practitioners who are very supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, and I think that more and more they are learning in med school how to approach someone differently and maybe be a little more open minded.”
While the FDA’s policy has changed, the changes will not be implemented until blood centers in Dayton and the entire country are trained and new processes are put in place, possibly as soon as September.
Until then, the previous policy and its three month deferral remains in place for men who have sex with men.