According to the American Red Cross thousands of blood drives across the country have been canceled due to COVID-19.
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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) eased restrictions on blood donations to allow gay men and others to donate blood in an effort to bolster a low supply depleted by coronavirus outbreak.
“We want and we need healthy people — all healthy people — to give blood,” said Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams, who announced the changes in a media briefing with the FDA.
The new regulations will open up gay and bisexual men and people with recent tattoos and piercings to be eligible donors. In the past, FDA rules barred donations from men who have had sex with a man in the previous year as well as women who’ve had sex with gay or bisexual men.
Under the new policy, the FDA has reduced the waiting period to three months to be considered a viable blood donor. FDA officials said the move to three months matched recent changes in the United Kingdom and other developed countries.
Additionally, people who recently have traveled to countries where malaria exposure is a risk will be allowed to donate blood as well.
Blood drives across the country have been canceled during the coronavirus outbreak and the American Red Cross estimated there have been some 86,000 fewer blood donations in recent weeks.
Agency officials said they were expecting the changes to remain in place after the end of the pandemic.
The U.S. and many other countries have long restricted donations from gay and bisexual men and several other groups due to the risk of spreading HIV through the blood supply. In 2015, the FDA moved from a total ban to the one-year abstinence period for men who have sex with men.
Gay-rights groups have continued to challenge that policy, saying it’s unnecessary given current testing technology and continued to stigmatize gay and bisexual men.
Donated blood has been screened for a number of infectious diseases, including HIV. The new coronavirus can’t be spread through blood, doctors have said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.