It is hoped that the possible treatment, known as convalescent plasma, will help Covid-19 patients whose bodies are not producing enough antibodies to fight the disease.
But any man who has had sex with another man within the past three months is excluded from donating their plasma, in line with the current rules for donating blood.
Those guidelines explain that “men who have sex with men are at an increased risk of acquiring certain infections through sex”, which could be passed on during a transfusion
The guidelines around donating blood are set by the Department of Health on the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs. Under the current guidelines, men must wait three months after having oral or anal sex with another man.
A spokesperson for the upcoming COVID-19 trial stated : “The guidelines are there to protect the health of the donor and the recipient.
Laura Russell, Director of Policy at UK Stonewall, said: “It’s really upsetting that gay and bi men who want to help in the fight against coronavirus are being prevented from doing so. The decision on whether people should be able to give blood or plasma should be based on individual risk assessments, not on people’s sexual orientation.”
Scientific evidence shows the move will not create risks for the nation’s blood supply, the FDA said. The policy change is expected to boost the supply of donated blood by hundreds of thousands of pints per year. Blood donations from gay men have been barred since the discovery that HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was being transmitted through transfusions.
The FDA said it will issue draft guidance on the policy, hopefully early in 2015. It would then review the comments and issue final guidance “as quickly as possible,” Peter Marks, deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said during a press briefing. An FDA advisory committee met this month to discuss issues around changing the policy, such as the effectiveness of new blood supply tests for HIV infections. In November, an advisory committee to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended a one-year deferral. The FDA stopped short of eliminating the ban for gay men altogether. Marks said during the briefing that scientific evidence for a ban shorter than a year was not “compelling.”
While still discriminatory Corey Dubin, a member of the FDA’s Blood Products Advisory Panel and founder of the hemophiliac advocacy group the Committee of Ten Thousand (COTT) the group represents hemppheliacs who have contracted HIV/AIDS through blood transfusions is against any lifting of the ban, no matter how incremental. “With the science so far, it’s a leap of faith, No matter how you stack it, there is a risk increase.” Dubin does not have a medical background.
ACLU Legislative Representative, Ian Thompson countered:
“The FDA’s proposal must be seen as part of an ongoing process and not an end point. The reality for most gay and bisexual men — including those in committed, monogamous relationships — is that this proposal will continue to function as a de facto lifetime ban. Criteria for determining blood donor eligibility should be based on science, not outdated, discriminatory stereotypes and assumptions.” The FDA blood donation policy, which has been in place since 1983, prohibits any man who has had sex with another man, even one time, since 1977 from donating blood. The American Civil Liberties Union previously submitted comments urging the FDA to reassess its policy based on current scientific evidence.
The question still remains though who is going to be the celibacy police?
Led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and a group of 87 members of Congress sent a letter has sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’ demanding that they lift the ban on blood donors who are “men who have had sex with other men , at any time since 1977,” a policy the FDA has had in place since the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis in 1992.
“Since the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic more than 30 years ago, the scientific community’s understanding of the virus has changed dramatically. We have seen vast advances in blood screening technology, blood donation policy changes in other countries allowing MSM to donate, and opposition from our nation’s blood banks who have called the current ban ‘medically and scientifically unwarranted. Our current policies turn away healthy, willing donors even when we face serious blood shortages. Further, the existing lifetime ban continues to perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes about gay and bisexual men, and fosters an atmosphere that promotes discrimination and discourages individuals from from seeking HIV testing and treatment services.”
Other signatories included Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), all openly gay or lesbian members of Congress.
In a statement on her website, Warren writes, “For me, this has been a basic issue of fairness and of science – blood donation policies should be grounded in science, not ugly and inaccurate stereotypes. When a Massachusetts man told me he wanted to donate blood during the bombings but couldn’t because of his sexual orientation, I dug deeper into this discriminatory ban and I didn’t like what I found. Current policies are contrary to science.”
The American Medical Association, has also joined the chorus of those who oppose the FDA’s ban on gay and bisexual blood donors.