15 United States senators sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday urging authorities to “shift away from antiquated and stigmatizing donation policies” of blood donations by gay men during the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“We must take every possible step to secure our nation’s blood supply in this critical time,” the senators wrote, advocating for donation policies that are “scientifically sound, based on individual risk, and inclusive of all potential healthy blood donors.
Because of the lockdowns, social distancing and self-isolation to prevent coronavirus’ spread the American Red Cross reports it has resulted in the cancellation of 2,700 blood drives and 86,000 fewer donations.
Under a regulation change in 2015, gay and bisexual men must refrain from sex for a year before they are permitted to donate blood. This replaced a former 1983 ruling that stated gay and bisexual men could not donate at all leftover from the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when little was known about the disease or how to test for it. Now all blood donations are screened for tested for syphilis, HIV, hepatitis, and HTLV (human T-lymphotropic virus), which can cause a blood or nerve disease.
Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., the first out lesbian elected to Congress, spearheaded the letter. Other signatories include Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
In a statement, Baldwin said she has “long fought to end discriminatory blood donation policies”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a nationwide blood shortage, and we must work to increase our nation’s supply based on science and facts. The FDA “needs to change their discriminatory blood donation policies to address this challenge and help save lives.”