As the US government urges Americans to give blood to aid in both the treatment and study of coronavirus, some people remain banned from contributing.
Gay and bisexual men, along with men who sleep with men, have long been barred from donating blood and plasma by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has now confirmed that the ban also covers plasma donations from gay and bisexual men who have tested positive for coronavirus — that is, people who may possess antibodies crucial to treating Covid-19 and eventually finding a vaccine against it.
So far, it seems that the government does not intend to change its policy. "At this time, FDA's recommendations regarding blood donor deferral for men who have sex with men have not changed," the organisation told CNN, "but we are actively considering the situation as the outbreak progresses."
Campaign organisation GLAAD, formerly known as the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, has begun a petition to "lift the ban that hinders gay men, bisexual men, and men who have sex with men from donating blood and plasma". So far, it has gathered nearly 20,000 signatures.
The FDA has issued emergency protocols allowing US hospitals to use blood from coronavirus survivors to treat others who have become critically ill. The treatment can only be used with permission on a case-by-case basis. It has been deployed in parts of China, where experiments on monkeys have indicated that antibodies may help prevent or mitigate re-infection.
The US's blood donation ban covers men who have sex with men within the last year. As GLAAD notes, the argument for keeping the ban in place has been refuted by organisations including the American Public Health Association and the American Red Cross.
In a statement, GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Ellis slated the FDA's decision to keep the ban in place for plasma donations for Covid-19 treatment. "The FDA cannot let an outdated and discriminatory ban on blood donations from gay and bi men get in the way of potentially life-saving treatment for the country's painful current health crisis.
"Continuing to enforce this antiquated policy is dangerous, irresponsible, and flies in the face of recommendations from medical experts."
She was joined in her call to end the ban by two Democratic members of Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Carolyn Maloney, who have written to the FDA imploring it to abandon the "antiquated" policy, which they say "undermines crucial efforts to increase the nation's blood supply as the United States grapples with the coronavirus crisis".
While the FDA has yet to approve pharmaceutical treatments for Covid-19 based on clinical trials, Donald Trump has talked up the commonly used drug chloroquine as a reliable cure for Covid-19. However, while some doctors have been using the drug and reported promising results, many others have urged caution.
A man in Arizona died from ingesting a version of the drug meant for use in aquariums; there are also reports that doctors are hoarding it for Covid-19 prescriptions, depleting the supply needed by patients with conditions like lupus.