As the cancelation of thousands of blood drives due to the coronavirus pandemic has led to a nationwide blood supply shortage, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and attorney generals from over 15 states and Washington D.C. sent a letter on April 22 to the Trump administration’s Assistant Secretary for Health, Brett Giroir, MD. requesting an end to discriminatory policies that prevent gay and bisexual men from donating blood.
“As of mid March,” the letter states, “over 4,000 blood drives have been canceled across the country due to coronavirus concerns and closures of schools and workplaces where these drives are usually held, resulting in over 100,000 fewer blood donations.”
The Food and Drug Administration previously required gay men to wait a full year after their last sexual encounter before giving blood, but in light of the recent shortage the waiting period was reduced to three months on April 2.
Becerra and the other attorney generals, who signed the letter argue that the new reduction in waiting time does not go far enough in eliminating bias against gay and bisexual men in order to increase the amount of available blood donors.
The letter references the gender-neutral blood donation policies of Spain, Portugal and Italy. For example, in Italy, donors of all genders must wait four months after having sexual contact with a new partner before donating blood.
Gay and bisexual men who must wait to give blood, must also wait before donating plasma to loved ones who undergo convalescent plasma transfer as an experimental COVID-19 treatment. In this experimental treatment, antibodies from someone who has recovered from COVID-19 are transferred to an infected individual in hopes that the donated antibodies will help them fight off the virus.
Only those eligible to donate blood are eligible to donate plasma, making many men in homosexual relationships unable to donate to sick loved ones.
“Strict application of this policy could still bar a gay man who recovers from COVID-19 from donating convalescent plasma to his critically ill husband,” Becerra’s letter reads, “even if they are both HIV-negative and even if their relationship is exclusively monogamous.”
The letter also mentions a 2014 study by the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law Williams Institute which projected that an additional 300,000 pints of blood could be donated annually if the federal restrictions on gay and bisexual men were lifted.
An adequate amount of donated blood is crucial to public health and is used during surgeries, to treat diseases such as sickle cell anemia and to save the lives of the injured.
All Red Cross blood donation opportunities in Long Beach are now by appointment only.
Those who are eligible can help lessen the strain on the national blood supply chain by continuing to donate during the pandemic. To see a list of available appointment times and locations visit the American Red Cross Greater Long Beach Chapter’s online page.
“We are taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of our volunteers and employees,” the Los Angeles County branch of the Red Cross’ website says, “including the postponement of all large events and volunteer meetings, transitioning to a remote work plan for most staff and volunteers, and ensuring safety protocols are in place at blood drives and all work sites to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”