(CNSNews.com) -- Citing the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released new guidelines today for allowing gay men, sex workers, and IV drug users, among others, to donate blood.
The FDA says its recommendations are for "immediate implementation."
Prior to today, if a potential donor was an active male homosexual, he was required to wait one year from his last sexual encounter before he could donate blood; he had to avoid sex with another man for 12 months.
Under the new rules, an active homosexual, sex worker, or IV drug user must defer for three months.
The 12-month deferral rule has been the policy since December 2015. Prior to that time, active homosexuals were barred indefinitely from donating blood. One of the main reasons is that sexually active homosexual men are at high risk for contracting HIV/AIDS, among other STDs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "In 2018, gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men accounted for 69% of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States and 6 dependent areas."
In the early 1980s, when HIV or GRIDS -- Gay Related Immune Deficiency Syndrome -- was being researched, segments of the U.S. blood supply were spoiled with the blood from infected homosexuals who donated blood.
This disaster led to tens of thousands of Americans being infected with the bad blood and many dying from AIDS. This health tragedy was particularly acute among the hemophiliac population, about 50% of whom were infected with HIV.
For that reason, among others, the FDA advised that homosexuals be deferred indefinitely from donating blood. The policy changed in 2015 because of improved HIV testing and extensive education about the risks of donating blood, if one is a sexually active homosexual or IV drug user.
It reportedly changed also because the FDA had faced political pressure from LGBT activists and their allies in the medical community and Congress. Gay-friendly institutions such as the New York City Council, the American Medical Association, the American Association of Blood Banks, and the American Red Cross had pushed for a policy change as early as 2006.
Although the policy was eventually changed to the 12-month rule, LGBT activists and their allies have been lobbying for an end to any deferral period. Now it has been reduced to three months.
On April 2, 2020, the FDA announced its new regulations. The title of the new guidance is, "Revised Recommendations for Reducing the Risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Transmission by Blood and Blood Products, Guidance for Industry. This guidance is for immediate implementation."
"Given the public health emergency related to COVID-19 declared by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), this guidance is being implemented without prior public comment because FDA has determined that prior public participation for this guidance is not feasible or appropriate," states the FDA. "This guidance document is being implemented immediately...."
The document provides a history of the FDA's decision-making on HIV transmission by blood and then presents its new approach.
"Blood establishments must provide donors educational material before each donation explaining the risk of HIV transmission by blood and blood products and risk factors associated with HIV infection so that donors can self-defer," says the FDA.
In addition to the educational material, usually a pamphlet, there is a Donor History Questionnaire (DHQ). The FDA advises that the DHQs be updated to include the following to assess donors for risk:
a. A history ever of a positive test for HIV,
b. A history in the past three months of exchanging sex for money or drugs,
c. A history in the past three months of non-prescription injection drug use, (Emphasis added.)
d. A history in the past 3 months of sex with any of the following individuals: a person with a history ever of a positive test for HIV, a person with a history ever of exchanging sex for money or drugs, or a person with a history ever of non-prescription injection drug use,
... h. A history in the past 3 months of syphilis or gonorrhea, or treatment for syphilis or gonorrhea,
i. For male donors: a history in the past 3 months of sex with another man, (Emphasis added.)
j. For female donors: a history in the past 3 months of sex with a man who has had sex with another man in the past 3 months.
If the donor answers yes, that he/she has a history of any of the above, the FDA offers its donor deferral guidance:
1. Defer indefinitely an individual who has ever had a positive test for HIV.
2. Defer for 3 months from the most recent event, an individual who has exchanged sex for money or drugs.
3. Defer for 3 months from the most recent event, an individual who has engaged in non-prescription injection drug use. (Emphasis added.)
4. Defer for 3 months from the most recent sexual contact, any individual who has a history of sex with a person who: has ever had a positive test for HIV, ever exchanged sex for money or drugs, or ever engaged in nonprescription injection drug use. (Emphasis added.)
... 8. Defer for 3 months after completion of treatment, an individual with a history of syphilis or gonorrhea, or an individual with a history of diagnosis or treatment for syphilis or gonorrhea in the past 3 months.
9. Defer for 3 months from the most recent sexual contact, a man who has had sex with another man during the past 3 months. (Emphasis added.)
10. Defer for 3 months from the most recent sexual contact, a female who has had sex during the past 3 months with a man who has had sex with another man in the past 3 months.
If a potential blood donor is deferred for three months, he is allowed to come back and try again, provided he meets the "donor eligibility criteria."
David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, a pro-LGBT group, was not happy with the new FDA rules. In a statement released on April 2, Johns said, “This is stigma and discrimination at work. Though the waiting period may have changed, the policy has not. There is still a blanket ban on sexually active gay, bisexual, and same gender loving men."
"This is a slap in the face to both LGBTQ+ communities and the many who will need blood and plasma transfusions during this crisis," said Johns. "There is no reason to keep the ban in effect, period.”
The pro-LGBT Human Rights Campaign also was not very pleased with the FDA's revised position.
“While this change by the FDA is a step in the right direction, it still bases itself in bias rather than science," said HRC President Alphonso David. "This is progress from the FDA. But our work is not yet done."
"This announcement by the FDA reduces the waiting period of time to 3 months and shrinks its untenable, virtual ‘ban’ on blood donations for gay and bi+ men," said David. "But creating policy based on identity as opposed to risk is irrational and given the current COVID-19 crisis, it is more critical than ever to prioritize science and facts over fear and bias.”
To read the entire FDA document, click here.