FDA US Food and Drug Administration

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has revised and relaxed restrictions on blood donation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused “unprecedented challenges to the U.S. blood supply.”

According to a news release, donor centers across the country have experienced a dramatic reduction in donations due to social distancing guidelines and the cancellation of blood drives, but the FDA says that there is still a critical need for blood. 

“Based on recently completed studies and epidemiologic data, the FDA has concluded that current policies regarding certain donor eligibility criteria can be modified without compromising the safety of the blood supply. Therefore, the FDA is revising recommendations in several guidances regarding blood donor eligibility,” the news release reads. 

These changes will be immediately implemented and are expected to remain in place after the end of the pandemic, “with any appropriate changes based on comments we receive and our experience implementing the guidances.” 

Among the changes to the FDA’s 2015 guidance, male donors who have had sex with another man are now recommended to wait 3 months before giving blood, a change from the previous recommendation of 12 months. 

The FDA is also changing the recommended deferral period for female donors who have sex with a man who has sex with another man to 3 months from the previous recommendation of 12 months.  

The same 3 month recommended deferral period has been issued for people with recent tattoos and piercings, which also had a previous recommendation of 12 months. 

In addition, the FDA has changed their August 2013 guidance which now recommends that residents of malaria non-endemic countries who have traveled to malaria-endemic areas should wait 3 months to donate blood instead of the previously recommended 12 months.  

According to the news release, the guidance does provide notice of an alternate procedure that permits the collection of blood and blood components from such donors without a deferral period, provided that the blood components are pathogen-reduced using an FDA-approved pathogen reduction device. 

The FDA is currently finalizing the January 2020 draft guidance which will eliminate a restriction for those who spent time in certain European countries or on military bases in Europe who were previously considered to have been exposed to a potential risk of transmission of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease or Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. The agency is eliminating the recommended deferrals and is recommending allowing reentry of these donors.

The changes were praised by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLADD) which said in a news release that the while the change was imperfect it was a step in the right direction, noting that completely erasing the restrictions could see a significant increase in blood donations

“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 the news release. "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.“  

The issue has been a controversial topic for decades that began with the 1983 ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men over fears around AIDS and HIV, a decision which was reversed in 2015 with the then 12-month deferral period.

More recently the issue of the continued restrictions has been a hot topic with lawmakers who have called on the FDA to continue to relax restrictions.

Those interested in donating blood may contact the following organizations to find a local blood collection site and to schedule an appointment:

AABB: www.aabb.org

America’s Blood Centers: www.americasblood.org

American Red Cross: www.redcrossblood.org

Armed Services Blood Program: www.militaryblood.dod.mil

Blood Centers of America: www.bca.coop

An ongoing and updated list of blood drive opportunities in Williamson County can also be found here

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