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US bans gay men who survive coronavirus from donating lifesaving plasma

US bans gay men who survive coronavirus from donating lifesaving plasma

  • Discrimination may be blocking a lifesaving treatment for COVID-19.
An FDA scientist testing blood.

Gay and bisexual men in the US who recover from COVID-19 will not be able to donate their plasma to help other patients with coronavirus.

Last week, the US Food and Drug Administration cleared the way to begin utilizing blood plasma to treat the virus.

Plasma is the yellow fluid in which blood cells are suspended. And doctors hope plasma from  recovered COVID-19 patients will be an effective treatment.

The technique, called convalescent-plasma therapy, dates back to the late 19th century. Although it’s not guaranteed it will work against coronavirus, it may be one of the best options available to hospitals at the moment.

However, the FDA also appears to be intent on sticking to its rules that people can’t donate plasma if they can’t give blood.

At the moment, that includes most gay and bisexual men. The FDA won’t let men who have sex with men give blood unless they have gone 12 months without sex before making the donation. The policy even applies to women who have sex with gay and bi men.

However, other experts have said their rules are outdated. The 12-month window period is far greater than many other countries insist on.

Moreover, the US is currently desperate for blood donations after coronavirus has made it harder for current donors to help. US Surgeon General Jerome Adams has specifically appealed for more people to give blood.

Don’t let discrimination prevent life-saving treatment

US LGBT+ organization GLAAD launched a petition earlier this month calling for an end to the current ban on blood donations. The petition has over 17,000 signatures. 

Celebrities have also joined their campaign. They include Sam Smith, Michelle Visage, Daniel Franzese, Peppermint, Margaret Cho, Nico Tortorella, Josh Feldman and Johnny Sibilly.

Moreover, the American Red Cross has also spoken out. It says ‘blood donation eligibility should not be determined by methods that are based upon sexual orientation’.

Now GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis has called for the FDA to change its rules on plasma. She says:

‘The FDA cannot let an outdated and discriminatory ban on blood donations from gay and bi men get in the way of potentially life-saving treatment for the country’s painful current health crisis.

‘Gay and bi men who have recovered from COVID-19 and want to donate plasma, or who want to help contribute to a nationwide shortage of blood, are banned from doing so as a result of the FDA.

‘Continuing to enforce this antiquated policy is dangerous, irresponsible, and flies in the face of recommendations from medical experts.’

Senators call on FDA to change blood ban

Meanwhile a group of US senators has also called on the FDA to review its policy.

The senators, including Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and more wrote to the FDA Commissioner Dr Stephen Hahn.

In the letter, they say:

‘We must take every possible step to secure our nation’s blood supply in this critical time.

‘In order to do so, we need to shift away from antiquated and stigmatizing donation policies to ones that are scientifically sound, based on individual risk, and inclusive of all potential healthy blood donors.’

The FDA last week said it was sticking to its policy but would keep it under review.