May 17, 2021 - News

Donation restrictions hamper central Iowa's blood supply

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Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Less than 40% of the U.S. population can give blood, a stat attributed by some medical advocates to confusing federal rules that offer no meaningful public health protections.

Why it matters: The restrictions make it exceedingly difficult to fix our low emergency blood supplies that are essential to saving lives.

Driving the news: Last week we told you about how the pandemic is linked with nationally low blood supplies, including in central Iowa.

  • LifeServe spokeswoman Danielle West responded to the complaints that followed from some of our rejected readers, urging them to lobby federal regulators for change.

Be smart: There are dozens of reasons donors can be excluded. All donations go through rigorous testing to screen for blood-borne diseases, including HIV.

  • Yes but: While extremely rare, the tests aren't 100% accurate and can provide faulty results.

Flashback: Men who had same-sex relations had for decades been permanently banned from giving blood, but that has changed in recent years.

  • The "urgent need for blood during the pandemic," resulted in the FDA's current policy that allows for the donations if the man hasn't had same-sex relations for at least three months.
  • A rule linked with "mad cow" disease was also revised last year but still excludes people who visited or lived in the UK between 1980 and 1996.
  • That includes Axios Des Moines readers like Bridget Penick of Clive, who studied in London in 1993. She contacted us last week to tell us about making a blood donation in January, only to have it rejected.

What they're saying: Blood donation policy shouldn't be based on excluding entire groups of people such as gay men, but instead target those who engage in risky behavior, like unprotected sex, according to groups like the Human Rights Campaign.

  • "It's a barrier and it's unclear why it's still there, especially for something that can benefit so many people," DSM resident John Whitty, a gay man who would like to be a donor, told Jason last week.

What's next: A ongoing study is looking into whether the FDA can revise what's known as its "men who have sex with men" policy.


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