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'This is helping us to reduce stigma': A potential move by the FDA could break barriers for gay, bisexual men

The Food and Drug Administration released draft guidelines to further ease restrictions for gay and bisexual men to donate blood surrounding the three-month abstinence requirement.
blood donation
Posted at 5:00 AM, Feb 06, 2023

Recently, the Food and Drug Administration released draft guidelines to further ease restrictions for gay and bisexual men to donate blood surrounding the three-month abstinence requirement.

“This recommendation is coming after years of thoughtful data-driven research focused on safety at the blood supply in risk of the patient,” said Dr. Christine Schmotzer, who is the Vice Chair of System Pathology Operations. “We are in a situation where we do have a critical need for blood products."

It's a move some call a long time coming that could break barriers for those in the community if approved.

“I think the FDA is definitely going in the right direction,” said Andrew Snyder, who is the Outreach Program Director, Instructor and LGBTQ Research at Kent State University. “This is a huge step and a win not just for safety but also for equity.”

During the holiday season and winter months, Schmotzer says there’s a decline in blood donations, placing blood banks in a tough position.

“We have certainly been in worse situations,” Schmotzer said. “About this time last year, we had significantly lower supply and had a greater need, but we do need continued donations to keep us at the level that we need to support our clinical care.”

Schmotzer said the move would also open the door for a more inclusive donor pool.

“This is helping us to reduce stigma around issues like HIV and many other different behavioral health factors that are disproportionately observed in the LGBTQ+ community,” said Snyder.

Identifying as gay and now asexual, Snyder revisits an experience that he still carries to this day.

“I remember all of my friends having lunch in the cafeteria and everyone after was going to go make this blood donation deferral and certain feelings around — how am I going to gracefully exit that group, knowing that I wouldn’t have qualified at that period to donate,” Snyder said.

Since then, Snyder said things have improved from the one-year abstinence requirement for gay and bisexual men.

“The pandemic actually helped us take that step forward to break down that one barrier," Snyder said.

But he says more is needed to continue reducing the stigma.

“The FDA has a huge commitment towards maintaining blood donations, blood collection and blood transfusion safety but it’s also to recognize perceptions of equity,” Snyder said.

The FDA has put this draft out for public comment.

If approved, potential donors would instead be screened with a new questionnaire to evaluate their risk.

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