AP (NEW)

For years, he couldn’t donate at the blood center where he worked. Under new FDA rules, now he can

Dec 21, 2023, 9:16 PM

Aaron Posey, a Bloodworks Northwest executive, donates blood at the blood center's Seattle headquar...

Aaron Posey, a Bloodworks Northwest executive, donates blood at the blood center's Seattle headquarters on Dec. 14, 2023. New federal guidelines that dropped an abstinence requirement before gay men in monogamous relationships can give blood are opening a new pool of potential donors. Posey, whose own life was saved by a transfusion when he fell down a set of stairs and broken glass sliced an artery, welcomed the new guidance, saying hospitals and patients need access to a new pool of donors. (AP Photo/Manuel Valdes)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Manuel Valdes)

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — Over the last six years, blood center employee Dylan Smith was often asked how frequently he gave blood himself. His answer was always the same: As a gay man, he couldn’t.

That changed this month.

Thanks to new federal guidelines finalized in May, gay and bisexual men in monogamous relationships can now donate at many blood centers around the country without abstaining from sex.

Bloodworks Northwest, where Smith works as a donor services supervisor, adopted the change on Dec. 6. He and his partner gave blood for the first time the next day.

“It’s been really emotionally difficult just to explain every single time the reason why,” said Smith, 28. “To be able to finally step up and support the mission that I really have just believed in since I started here just makes my heart feel so happy.”

The new U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines are the latest step in a yearslong effort to reverse restrictions that were designed to protect the blood supply from HIV, but which were increasingly criticized as discriminatory following scientific advances that allowed better detection of the virus.

In 2015, the FDA dropped the lifetime ban on donations from men who have sex with men and replaced it with a one-year abstinence requirement. The agency shortened the abstinence period to three months in 2020 after donations plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The American Red Cross, which accounts for about 40% of blood and blood component donations in the U.S., began implementing the new guidance in August.

About half of the 16 independent blood bank organizations that are members of the Alliance for Community Transfusion Services have rolled out the new guidelines, with more expected next year, the organization said.

“It is going to take time,” said Benjamin Prijatel, president of Shepeard Community Blood Center in Augusta, Georgia. “Blood centers and health professionals are going to have to put forth the effort to engage and educate this community in order to overcome years of distrust. That’s the only way this rule change will translate into additional donations.”

The change puts the emphasis on sexual activity rather than on sexual orientation. All potential donors are screened with a new questionnaire evaluating their HIV risk based on sexual behavior, partners and other factors that can contribute to the spread of blood-borne infections, such as intravenous drug use or recent tattoos or piercings.

Potential donors who report having anal sex with new partners in the last three months are barred from giving until a later date, and anyone who has ever tested positive for HIV will continue to be ineligible. Those taking pills to prevent HIV through sexual contact are still barred until three months after their last dose; the medications, known as PrEP, can delay the detection of the virus, the FDA said.

Donated blood is then tested for HIV, hepatitis C, syphilis and other infectious diseases.

Bloodworks Northwest, which supplies blood to more than 90 hospitals in the region, isn’t keeping track of how many newly eligible donors are coming in, said Dr. Kirsten Alcorn, the nonprofit’s co-chief medical officer. But workers have heard plenty of stories from people excited to give.

“It feels very meaningful to many of them to now be able to contribute to somebody’s survival,” Alcorn said.

Bloodworks executive Aaron Posey, whose own life was saved by a transfusion when he fell down a set of stairs and broken glass sliced an artery, welcomed the new guidance. He said hospitals and patients need access to a new pool of donors.

“Having always witnessed a shortage in the blood supply, it has at times been very frustrating,” said Posey, who first donated blood during the pandemic when the abstinence period was cut to three months.

Smith learned of the restrictions on gay men giving blood when he was screened while trying to donate his freshman year of college in 2013. The rules blindsided him, he said. It was a long time to wait before he could finally donate with his partner and other friends.

“Just being able to see them donating next to me, smiling next to me … meant so much,” Smith said.

AP (New)

Associated Press

Prosecutors say Washington officer charged with murder ignored his training in killing man in 2019

KENT, Wash. (AP) — A suburban Seattle police officer ignored his training and unnecessarily resorted to deadly force when he shot and killed a man outside a convenience store in 2019, prosecutors said as the officer’s murder trial opened Thursday. Auburn Police Officer Jeff Nelson shot Jesse Sarey twice while attempting to arrest him for […]

2 days ago

Associated Press

Seattle Times publisher Frank Blethen to step down after 4 decades in charge of family-owned paper

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle Times publisher and CEO Frank Blethen has announced he will step down at the end of next year after four decades leading the newspaper his family has owned since 1896. Blethen, 79, confirmed his plans Monday in a Seattle Times interview. He said he expects to retain his position as board […]

4 days ago

Associated Press

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators who blocked road near Sea-Tac airport plead not guilty

SEATAC, Wash. (AP) — More than three dozen pro-Palestinian protesters accused of blocking a main road into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport last month pleaded not guilty on Monday to misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and failing to disperse. Thirty-seven people pleaded not guilty in SeaTac Municipal Court, where Judge Pauline Freund returned $500 bail to each […]

5 days ago

Associated Press

Seattle man is suspected of fatally shooting 9-month-old son and is held on $5 million bail

SEATTLE (AP) — A Seattle man has been arrested in connection with the fatal shooting of his 9-month-old son. Officers responded to reports of a shooting in the Magnolia neighborhood Wednesday evening, the Seattle Police Department said in a post on its website. A woman told officers her baby had been shot, and firefighters pronounced […]

8 days ago

Associated Press

Seattle to open short-term recovery center for people after a fentanyl overdose

SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle will open a new space for people to recover and receive treatment for nearly 24 hours after they have overdosed on fentanyl or other drugs, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced Thursday. The center is slated to open near the Pioneer Square neighborhood in mid-2025 and will be run by a homelessness and […]

9 days ago

Associated Press

Three men sentenced to life in prison for killing family in Washington state

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. (AP) — Three men found guilty of killing a family in Washington state in 2017 over alleged drugs and money were sentenced to life in prison without without the possibility of parole. Superior Court Judge Kevin Hull on Tuesday sentenced Danie Kelly Jr., 45, Robert Watson III, 52, and Watson’s brother Johnny […]

10 days ago

For years, he couldn’t donate at the blood center where he worked. Under new FDA rules, now he can