FDA

Hey FDA! There's a Massive Blood Shortage. Let Gay and Bisexual Men Give Blood Already.

The agency should relax the yearlong deferral period.

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There's been a steady stream of roadblocks facing the U.S. as it seeks to curb the spread of COVID-19, but perhaps none quite as absurd as the hindrances posed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Its stringent regulations are, in theory, meant to protect the public, but its rules sometimes get in the way when people most need help.

The American Red Cross recently declared an "urgent" shortage of blood donations with thousands of blood drives canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Yet the FDA still prohibits men who have sex with men (MSM) from donating if they don't abstain from that behavior for at least a year—a regulation that makes little sense nowadays.

While the rule is antiquated, its implementation in December 2015 was actually seen as a step up; the FDA previously enforced a lifetime ban on blood donations from MSM. That caution certainly made sense in the early 1980s, when the AIDS crisis was scientifically confusing and testing had not yet advanced far enough to screen for HIV antibodies. But now it's 2020, and medical capabilities have advanced quite a bit: Every donation, whether it comes from a gay man or not, is tested for a full range of potential diseases, including syphilis, hepatitis, human T-lymphotropic virus, and, yes, HIV.

So why the ban?

People who have been newly infected with HIV may initially test negative for the virus. But current methods can find those antibodies within nine to 11 days after infection, making the yearlong deferral period confusing.

"At this time, FDA's recommendations regarding blood donor deferral for men who have sex with men have not changed, but we are actively considering the situation as the outbreak progresses," a spokesperson for the agency tells Reason.

Their website notes that, in 2010, the HHS Advisory Committee for Blood Safety and Availability decided the lifetime ban was "suboptimal." After years of studies, the group concluded that one year of MSM celibacy was appropriate to deter risk, though that figure might have less to do with data and much more to do with mirroring the same arbitrary yearlong deferral periods instituted by several countries abroad. 

"The selection of a donation deferral time period of 12-months is not based in science but appears to be modeled after other countries' choices and fears," wrote the American Public Health Association in June 2015.

Indeed, the one-size-fits-all policy perpetuates a fundamental and unscientific misconception around gay men, their sex lives, and how HIV is spread. Though it's true that MSM are more likely to contract HIV than heterosexual males, the FDA's current process does not penalize straight males or females who engage in risky practices. A gay male who hasn't had any sexual contact in six months will be barred from donating blood, while a man who has had casual sex with multiple partners over the last year or month or week will sail through screening.

Taking that into account, the FDA should depart from its illogical risk assessment process in favor of one that actually assesses risk properly.

Consider the process in Italy, which, in 2001, enshrined a procedure that analyzes factors on an individual basis instead of establishing blanket bans based on orientation. A no-risk result receives no deferral, a risk result receives four months, and a high-risk result is turned away indefinitely.

A similar system in the U.S. would likewise open doors for other donor groups who are senselessly and unscientifically prohibited from donating, including anyone who has ever had sex for money or anyone who has ever injected drugs that were not prescribed to them. Both groups receive lifetime deferrals, regardless of testing capabilities that screen for hepatitis and HIV.

Citing increased demand for donors, several senatorsincluding erstwhile Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) and current contender Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.)are asking the FDA to contemplate changing their process. "In light of this shortage, we urge you to swiftly update blood donor deferral policies in favor of ones that are grounded in science, are based on individual risk factors, do not unfairly single out one group of individuals, and allow all healthy Americans to donate," they wrote.

Paramount to this discussion is the safety of the blood supply—endangering that is certainly not worth sparing any one group's hurt feelings. Calls to remove deferrals entirely for potentially risk-prone individuals make little sense. But current testing capabilities do support relaxing gay and bisexual men to a three-month deferral rate, which may even increase compliance among donors who would otherwise lie in the face of ridiculous waiting periods. Those who remain skeptical of this proposal can look to the U.K., which instituted a three-month deferral for MSM and saw no increase in HIV-infected blood.

"FDA is aware there has been a significant reduction in blood and plasma donations around the country," a spokesperson said. "The agency is working with the blood banking and source plasma industries to encourage healthy people who wish to help to donate blood. People who donate blood are like those people working in a critical infrastructure industry."

That's true. But many gay men are perfectly healthy. I'd venture to say that large numbers would be interested in helping reduce these shortages during this crisis, should they be subject to an evaluation process driven by science, not stereotype.

NEXT: FDA Approves Emergency Use of Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine to Treat COVID-19

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  1. Nope.

    Homosexuality by gay men is very high risk behavior.

    Fucking someone in the ass has higher risks than vaginal sex for biological reasons.
    Anal Sex Safety: Everything You Need to Know

    Boomers mostly having Hep C because of bad medical practices is definitely what we want to go for here for a whole new generation who get some disease from high risk blood.

    1. But engaging in heterosexual anal sex is perfectly fine, that’s why they done screen for it, right?

      1. Us Libertarians should not really care about personal sexual proclivities as long as they dont hurt others.

        Blood from gay men is high risk and some poor patient shouldn’t have to endure a life of who knows what if something slips through the blood screen.

        1. That’s my point, if you are going to single out risky sexual behavior why give those engaging in risky heterosexual behavior a pass? If a man gets HIV from a woman (or vice versa) does that somehow make it more likely to show up in a blood screen?

          1. Regardless of sexuality the test will pick up HIV once the levels of antigen/antibody reach a certain level. This leads to a ‘window’ of infectivity where the test is resulted as negative but HIV is present in the blood. Therefore, a questionnaire is administered to identify those more at risk of HIV. This includes but isn’t limited to:
            Gay men, those using IV drugs, straight men sleeping with prostitutes, females whose sexual partners also have sex with men,
            Unlicensed tattoos.

            1. Anyone who has gotten any tattoo, licensed or not, in the last twelve months.

              1. If it’s performed at a state regulated tattoo shop then it’s ok.

          2. “why give those engaging in risky heterosexual behavior a pass”

            I’m pretty sure the number of heterosexual bugchasers is shockingly small, but yes, ban them too.

            This is all special pleading by Binion anyway. Allowing gay men to donate isn’t going to boost blood stocks to any appreciable level.

            1. True, because there aren’t actually enough of them around. A couple percent of the population.

              You really want to boost the blood supply, start paying for it, instead of demanding people give it away.

          3. If a man gets HIV from a woman

            Extremely rare unless you’re shooting up with her used hypo.

            1. More or less rare than a man getting it from the man he’s in a long term monogamous relationship with?

              1. You could probably count the number of exclusively monogamous homosexual male couples in the Western hemisphere on one hand.

      2. Some of the reasons for deferral are listed here:

        Anyone who has ever used needles to take drugs, steroids, or any substance not prescribed by a doctor
        Men who have had sexual contact with other men in the past 12 months
        Anyone with a positive test for HIV (AIDS virus)
        Men and women who have ever engaged in sex for money or drugs
        Anyone who has had babesiosis or Chagas disease
        Anyone who has taken Tegison for psoriasis
        Anyone who has risk factors for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) or who has a blood relative with CJD
        Anyone who has risk factors for vCJD, including:
        Anyone who spent three months or more in the United Kingdom from 1980 through 1996
        Anyone who received a blood transfusion in the United Kingdom or France from 1980 to the present
        Anyone who has spent five years in Europe from 1980 to the present.
        http://www.aabb.org/tm/donation/Pages/donatefaqs.aspx

        1. I take coumadin (PE 9 years ago). Does that disqualify me?

        2. Anyone who has ever used needles to take drugs, steroids, or any substance not prescribed by a doctor
          I was a combat lifesaver. I gave IVs to soldiers suffering from heat injuries without a doctor’s order.

          Men and women who have ever engaged in sex for money
          Only professionally?

          1. I served for 10 years and ran the blood donation program in Afghanistan for coalition forces. It’s for medical need so you would be fine.

        3. What, “brucellosis of the liver” is OK now?

      3. Yea. Much higher occurrence of it in gay men.

        1. You seem to have missed my point, if the purpose was due to anal sex being risky then the question should be about anal sex, regardless of partner. But as written is excludes any and all risky sexual behavior for heterosexuals, despite there being just as a great a risk there

          1. It’s not the anal sex that precludes you. It’s the act of two men engaging in sexual activity. Oral sex also excludes you.
            As stated elsewhere in the thread, straight men engaging in vaginal sex (even protected) with a prostitute will disqualify you. It’s not an attack on gay people or anal sex, but an acknowledgement that some activities are riskier than others.

            1. +1000000000000

            2. Gay men tend to be crazy promiscuous. That’s the danger.

              1. Case in point, your attempt to get me into a lucky pierre with you and sparky.

                And it’s still a no thank you.

            3. That is precisely the thing that the activists object to acknowledging. It means that things are not equivalent in reality.

          2. “You seem to have missed my point, ”

            No you missed mine. We test based on likelihood not hurt feelings.

      4. Presumably, you wouldn’t hit yourself over a hammer to make yourself more retarded, so why are you pretending like you do?

    2. I’m guessing you don’t have any gay friends. From what I’ve been told, most gay men only engage in oral sex. Anal sex is about dominance, and there’s actually more heterosexual men than homosexual men sticking it up someone’s ass. And there’s no way in hell I’m clicking that link.

      1. It sounds like YOU dont have any gay people in your life.

        Well, you do if you keep up with other homeless gay men from the street. You were a powerless bottom, I suspect.

        1. You’ve forgotten more about anal sex than I will ever know. Makes me think you’re projecting.

          1. You don’t know how to read. I do know how to read about things that I have zero personal experience with.

    3. Actually it is getting fucked in the ass that raises the risk more than fucking someone in the ass.

      And if you look at it that way should we ask heterosexual donors if they have done any ass fucking in the past year?

  2. Actually blood supplies are currently stable. Due to increased awareness of the potential shortage and the massive reduction in surgical cases going ahead, blood is being used less than usual.
    Whilst I agree that the current time period of deferral for gay men is too high, any reduction should be based on the science of infectious disease modelling and not be a political decision.

    1. I am getting pinged like crazy by the American red Cross to give blood. They are offering $20 Amazon cards.

      I’m O- blood though, so there must be some kind of shortage or they wouldn’t be hitting me up more than normal.

      Maybe a whole bunch of new patients are dire need of O- blood, as my mutant powers to donate to any other blood type have a weakness that I can only receive my own kind.

      1. O Neg is always in short supply.
        We ordered blood like crazy due to anticipating a drop off in donors. Most of our donors are from high schools.
        Currently we are sitting on a large supply of blood and as of today don’t need more donors. However, blood has a shelf-life of 35 days. So once surgery starts again post quarantine more blood will be required then.

        1. The medical staff always tell me that high school kids love to give blood. It gets them out of class.

          Good enough incentive as any.

          I was debating on giving blood quicker than normal but there might be a bloodletting soon. I might need every drop I have in use on a moments notice.

          1. Yeah they get out of class and spend time with their friends.
            Personally I’d hold onto it for now. Coronavirus isn’t something that requires blood donations, but we still have trauma and childbirths to deal with. Not to mention all the cancer patients that require blood.
            The demand for blood is likely to be greater after the quarantine is over, or if it carries on for months.

            1. Thats what I was thinking too. I dont normally do the Power Red but was thinking of doing that after the hysteria dies down to give more blood cells at one sitting.

      2. I’m gay and would be willing to donate blood. Or more precisely I’d be willing to sell it, like for a $20 Amazon card.

        But this can’t actually be all that important a policy change. Lesbians are not excluded. What increase in blood supplies would allowing non-celibate gay men to donate produce? 2%?

  3. How do they know if you are gay or not?

    1. Gaydar, where available.

      Otherwise they ask you and if you tell them you’re gay, then they know you’re gay.

    2. It’s a questionnaire covering a whole variety of topics including sexual history. Whilst testing is carried out it’s not perfect and so lifestyle factors and self-deferral are some of the best ways to ensure a safe blood supply. Currently the chance of contracting HIV is less than that of being struck by lightning. But it does happen and using Coronavirus as an excuse to change it isn’t the right way forward.

      1. It won’t change.

        As you say, the questionnaire essentially boils down to asking someone “Do you participate in activities likely to render this sample unuable?” The cost and invasiveness is as near zero as can get and both the actual cost of materials as well as the risk is too large and tangible. The only way it gets eliminated entirely is through this SJW, false-equality, opportunistic legal fiat.

    3. They ask you in the screening.

      You can lie but if you’re found out, it’s a crime in some jurisdictions and it opens you personally to civil action for knowingly spreading a deadly disease.

    4. You can usually tell by looking at their penis.

      1. Is that because it’s usually in another dude’s ass or mouth?

        You don’t need Gaydar for that observation.

        Some people might want to bleach their eyeballs out.

    5. Ask him if he knows what team Tom Brady currently plays for?

    6. Ask him what wall paint color goes best with an antique armoire?

    7. Ask him what semen usually tastes like?

    8. Ask him if he’s gay?

      1. Ask his boyfriend/husband.

    9. They ask you. So do fertility clinics paying for sperm. People lie to them and they don’t know or care.

  4. Thank goodness Binion is here to bring attention to the issues that really matter. As we slide into the economic abyss, it’s so important for someone to point out that signaling is just as important now as it ever was. Thanks Billy!

    It’s like animal rights activists teaching the ethics of vegetarianism to an African village during a famine–for fear that those who are starving to death might be more likely to eat animals. The point isn’t to make a dent in this or any other problem.

    The point is virtue signaling.

    1. Nicely put. Yes, Binion is a 1 trick pony. And it’s not a good trick.

    2. I was thinking something similar.

      Sure, it is insulting if you are a gay man.

      But the maximum benefit of changing this policy is a 1.5% increase in the blood donor pool. And that’s only if there are not increased rates of blood-born illnesses within that pool.

      1. And on the issue of blood supplies, the least important thing is whether gay men feel insulted.

    3. Leave him alone, you meanie.

      He might be cute.

      Lemme google up a photo and check.

      1. Having googled his photo he appears to be 14 years old.

        Why are you grown men picking on a 14 year old boy? Or 14 year old lesbian? Or whatever.

  5. Honest question here… how does COVID-19 lead to a blood shortage? It’s a respiratory disease. Are blood transfusions or even surgeries common treatment?

    It seems every crisis triggers this drive for more blood. I don’t really understand why in this case.

    1. Vast majority of blood is donated by high schools (now shut) and large corporations running blood drives from their premises (now shut).
      Initially it was believed this would result in a blood shortage so the media was engaged to drum up support to maintain stocks.
      However, all non-essential surgery was postponed so the demand for blood dropped. Blood banks are now sitting on a large supply of blood.

  6. Oh goody — let’s kill MORE people!

  7. I guess Binion ran out of things to write about and got assigned to hack out yet another version of this evergreen article, which pops up at least once a year on this site.

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  10. As someone with O- and CMV- blood whose donations are normally eagerly sought, I am now barred for 1 year because I spent a week in Mumbai in winter. The chance that I have contracted malaria are miniscule.

  11. I see drug commercials quite frequently that proclaim that the drug combo makes HIV “undetectable” in lab tests….makes that a bit concerning – so someone with HIV *could* donate… are they screening for the drug now?

    I donate plasma 2x a week – a lot of the people who do it are lower-income and make about $400/mo. People are pretty desperate – I see them with weights in pockets to make themselves heavier so they can get paid more, and having a fever but drinking cold water right before their temp is donated…and spending time in jail. The place occasionally searches to see if anyone has been incarcerated but their practices are questionable. Makes me nervous if I ever need plasma products.

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