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Tennessee-based blood bank to welcome previously deferred donors under new FDA rules

 Blood Assurance set up a mobile clinic outside TriStar Greenview Regional Hospital in Bowling Green following the Dec. 2021 tornadoes.
Lisa Autry
Blood Assurance set up a mobile clinic outside TriStar Greenview Regional Hospital in Bowling Green following the Dec. 2021 tornadoes.

A regional blood center serving Kentucky, Tennessee, and other states is preparing to ease donor restrictions for gay and bisexual men under newly proposed guidance from the Food and Drug Administration.

The federal government is changing a policy first put in place during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

Under current guidelines, the FDA only allows blood donations from homosexual men who abstain from sex for three months. Under new guidance proposed last month, the FDA recommends all potential donors be screened with a questionnaire that assesses the risk for HIV based on individual behaviors instead of their sexual or gender identity alone.

“So a female who has experienced a new sex partner or multiple sex partners, and it’s anal sex, that person would be deferred," said Blood Assurance Chief Medical Officer Dr. Liz Culler.

All potential donors will now be asked if they’ve had new or multiple sexual partners.

If they answer yes, they’ll be asked if they’ve engaged in anal intercourse, and if so, their donation would be deferred for three months.

Individuals in long-term, monogamous relationships will no longer be deferred.

The restrictions on gay and bisexual men donating blood began in response to the AIDS epidemic. In the 1980s, the FDA enacted a lifetime ban on blood donations from homosexual men.

In 2015, the agency dropped the ban and instead required men to abstain from sex with other men for one year prior to donating blood. In 2020, the deferral period was shortened to 90 days. Once the new guidance issued in January takes effect, the three-month abstinence requirement will be dropped.

LGBTQ advocacy groups, as well as the American Medical Association, have long argued the requirements are discriminatory.

“We’re always on the side of a safe and adequate blood supply, but at the same time, some people who have been deferred will be able to donate again, so we anticipate we’ll experience more donors after this change," Dr. Culler said in an interview with WKU Public Radio.

The new guidelines are expected to be in place in three to four months. Blood banks like Blood Assurance say they will have to update donor questionnaires and computer systems, which may be several more months before they can welcome previously deferred donors.

Blood Assurance is a regional non-profit that supplies blood to health care facilities in Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina.

Lisa is a Scottsville native and WKU alum. She has worked in radio as a news reporter and anchor for 18 years. Prior to joining WKU Public Radio, she most recently worked at WHAS in Louisville and WLAC in Nashville. She has received numerous awards from the Associated Press, including Best Reporter in Kentucky. Many of her stories have been heard on NPR.
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