The federal government on Thursday relaxed restrictions on receiving blood donations from gay men and other groups as the country confronts a severe drop in the U.S. blood supply that officials described as urgent and unprecedented.
The Food and Drug Administration's new rules are intended to spur a wave of donations as the coronavirus outbreak has caused donor centers to be closed and blood drives to be canceled nationwide.
Under the new policy, men who have had sex with other men will be able to give blood more quickly. Federal rules previously made such donors wait 12 months before giving blood. That wait has been shortened to three months.
LGBTQ rights advocates cautiously welcomed the policy change, saying federal officials should remove all wait times for gay men, saying such a rule stigmatizes gay and bisexual men.
"LGBTQ Americans can hold their heads up today and know that our voices will always triumph over discrimination," said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis, noting the change is "in line with science, but remains imperfect."
Ellis added: "We will keep fighting until the deferral period is lifted and gay and bi men, and all LGBTQ people, are treated equal to others."
The year-long wait policy also applies to women who have had sex with gay or bisexual men and those who have been received tattoos and piercings in the past year. The FDA's rule changes lowers the wait period for those group to three months as well.
The new policies were reached, according to the FDA, following recent studies and epidemiological data concluded that eligibility criteria can be modified without impacting the safety of the blood supply.
Federal officials say the rule change will stay in place even after the pandemic ends.
"Maintaining an adequate blood supply is vital to public health. Blood donors help patients of all ages – accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients and those battling cancer and other life-threatening conditions," FDA officials said in a statement.
In 2015, the U.S. lifted a decades-long lifetime ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men that was imposed during the AIDS epidemic to protect people from receiving blood transfusions from getting HIV. Instead, regulators placed a one-year wait time on gay and bisexual blood donors.
But modern blood screenings can detect HIV, leading gay rights advocates to say any wait time is unnecessary.
Blood tests can remain negative for about nine days after someone has been infected with HIV.
Before someone donates blood, they are screened for a host of infectious diseases, including HIV.
Coronavirus is most often transmitted between people who are in close contact with each other, or through respiratory droplets from coughing, sneezing or talking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
People are not at risk of contracting coronavirus through the blood donation process, according to AABB, a nonprofit that represents the blood transfusion field.