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Blood centers push FDA to change policy for LGBTQ men amid shortage

Blood donations continue to remain low and centers demand change
Posted at 8:55 AM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-22 09:55:08-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A push by blood centers for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reassess its deferral policy on non-straight men continues as blood supply in Kansas City saw a dramatic drop during spring break.

Community Blood Center (CBC) serves 95% of the blood needs in the Greater Kansas City metro area. Before Spring Break 2022, the center was sitting at a five to six-day supply of blood. That supply dropped to two days during spring break.

“Spring break was a little unexpected for us because it's not normally a time of year where our donations dropped. Last week, our donations took a really sharp drop and we do attribute that to spring break as schools were out of session and parents were at home with their kids or on vacation,” explained Chelsey Smith with CBC.

The lack of donations comes a year after CBC launched the “We All Bleed the Same” campaign, which allows donors to fill out a card addressed to the FDA asking them to take action on deferral policies affecting men who engage in sexual activity with other men, or MSM.

Vince Pugh of the Mid-America LGBT Chamber of Commerce in Kansas City is frustrated with the federal policy and simply wants to help with the shortage.

“I am O Negative,” Pugh said. “I can be out donating saving lives, I would love to, but because of this current ban, I’d have to literally abstain for three months or have to keep track of that. So it's holding me back from saving lives and it's essentially affecting a lot of people.”

For decades, up until 2015, the FDA had placed an indefinite ban on MSM.

The deferral period was then changed to 12 months. In April of 2020, it was changed to 90 days.

Debra Kessler with the New York Blood Center said the policy is put in place because in some cases, HIV takes a week or two to show up on tests, and the CDC considers MSM a high-risk group for HIV.

Earlier this year, around 20 U.S. Senators sent an open letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the FDA saying the policy is discriminatory, outdated and not scientifically sound.

“It is important to donate blood. We are still suffering from a shortage of blood and we need everybody to come out and donate,” Kessler said.

The FDA is currently funding a study with three of the nation's largest blood centers called the Advance Study. The focus is to look at changing blood donor eligibility for non-straight men based on individual risk assessments instead of latest sexual activity or contact.

“The blood banking community as a whole is behind (the) change and for moving forward to a more individualized risk assessment,” Kessler said.

The study is ongoing and no changes have been made.

Pugh said as the need for blood continues, this policy highlights the ongoing battle he faces as a gay man.

"There's still a lot of things in terms of donating blood, adopting, there's a lot in terms of that we are still fighting for equal rights for and I think that the journey is still ongoing,” Pugh said.