Hospitals & Facilities

FDA relaxes restrictions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men

The new guidance will potentially increase the country’s number of eligible blood donors.
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Will Varner

· 3 min read

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The reversal of a 40-year-old AIDS-era blood donation rule might improve the nation’s waning blood supply.

The FDA announced last week that it eliminated restrictions that had previously prevented many gay and bisexual men from donating blood, which have largely been criticized as discriminatory. Rather than an outright ban, the FDA will ask every blood donor a series of “individual risk-based questions to reduce the risk of transfusion-transmitted HIV,” the agency announced.

“The implementation of individualized donor assessment protocols will lead to a more inclusive and diverse donor pool, an expansion of the nation’s blood supply, and more opportunities to save lives and improve health,” Debra BenAvram, CEO of the Association for the Advancement of Blood and Biotherapies (AABB), a nonprofit that accredits blood centers, said in a statement.

Under previous guidance, men who had sex with other men in the past three months could not donate blood. Eliminating that three-month time deferral could increase the country’s blood supply by 2%–4%, according to a 2014 study from the Williams Institute, a research center at the UCLA School of Law focused on LGBTQ+ policies.

For most of 2023, the country’s supply of Type O blood—the most common blood type—has been below optimal levels, according to data from America’s Blood Centers, The American Red Cross, and Blood Centers of America compiled by the AABB.

An influx of donations may not happen right away, however, as blood centers take time to update their software with the new screening questionnaire and train frontline staff to comply with the FDA’s guidance.

“We anticipate being ready to begin accepting donors under the new policy in the coming months. In the meantime, the current three-month restriction for men who have sex with men will remain in effect,” nonprofit blood center OneBlood spokesperson Susan Forbes said in a statement.

One of the potential challenges the AABB foresees as it helps blood centers comply with the new guidance is “communicating with and welcoming new and returning donors from the LGBTQ+ community.”

Colin Quinn, president of communities at Included Health, a virtual care and navigation platform serving the LGBTQ+ community, told Healthcare Brew that reengagement with the community will be challenging, but that “it comes down to building trust and acknowledging that change isn’t going to happen overnight.”

For example, blood centers can look at the outreach efforts during last year’s mpox outbreak, Quinn said.

Still, the FDA’s updated guidance is a “step in the right direction,” Quinn said.

Navigate the healthcare industry

Healthcare Brew covers pharmaceutical developments, health startups, the latest tech, and how it impacts hospitals and providers to keep administrators and providers informed.