Advance Notice: Briefs

Nessel urges FDA to stop discriminating against LGBTQs in blood donations

By: - April 23, 2020 11:59 am

Attorney General Dana Nessel at Michigan Pride | Susan J. Demas

Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a group of attorneys general in submitting comments to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to support lifting current donation restrictions on the LGBTQ population. She said that will help maintain an adequate national blood supply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On April 2, the FDA eased restrictions on donations from the LGBTQ population, specifically gay and bisexual men, by reducing the wait period after sexual activity for gay and bisexual men from 12 months to three months. The ban on blood donations dates back to the Reagan administration when the AIDS crisis hit.

The attorneys general wrote that this revision is “a step in the right direction.”

However, they stated that by moving toward a risk-based, gender neutral screening model and further revising guidance will make it easier for the LGBTQ population to donate blood and plasma.

“One thing we know for sure is COVID-19 does not discriminate and it definitely doesn’t consider one’s sexual orientation prior to infecting them,” said Nessel. “These are unprecedented times and as we concentrate much of our energy on slowing the spread of this disease, our response should also include encouraging everyone to donate blood to restore the supply that has drastically plummeted.”  

Nessel also argues that moving toward a risk-based model, rather than one based on gender, is not only more appropriate to address the population’s needs, but is also more in line with anti-discrimination laws 

Data from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law Williams Institute indicates that lifting restrictions completely, as compared to a 12-month waiting period, would produce more than 2 million additional eligible blood donors, including nearly 175,000 likely blood donors, and would produce nearly 300,000 pints of additional donated blood annually.

“The FDA’s policies should be based on scientific evidence rather than some arbitrary timeline,” Nessel added.  

The United States needs approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells, nearly 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma to provide blood transfusions each day. 

But amid the pandemic, blood drives and donations have dropped significantly amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The American Red Cross, which provides about 40% of the nation’s blood and blood components, recently reported less than a five-day blood supply on hand. As of mid-March, over 4,000 blood drives have been canceled across the country due to coronavirus concerns and closures of schools and workplaces, resulting in over 100,000 fewer blood donations. 

Nessel wrote the joint letter with the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Virginia.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8.