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The FDA is finally easing its restriction on gay and bisexual men donating blood due to 'urgent need'

April 2, 2020
CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration significantly rolled back restrictions on blood donations from men who have had sex with other men, citing an "urgent need for blood" caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The FDA's decision marks a dramatic shift from federal rules that have been in place since 1983, the height of the AIDS crisis, when the government ordered a lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men, NBC News reports. Those rules were slightly loosened in 2015, when it was changed to a year-long abstinence requirement. On Thursday, the FDA shortened the window of abstinence even further, to three months.

Peter Marks, the director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in the announcement that "[blood] donor centers have experienced a dramatic reduction in donations due to the implementation of social distancing and the cancellation of blood drives" since the outbreak began, and that "the FDA has concluded that current policies regarding certain donor eligibility criteria can be modified without compromising the safety of the blood supply."

Activists, though, have long criticized restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood, BuzzFeed News notes, calling the rules scientifically unfounded and biased. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said Thursday that "these changes are based on the best science that we have today regarding the time that it takes to test positive for HIV" and that he encouraged all people to "do the right thing: donate blood." Jeva Lange