Gay men who have recovered from COVID-19 are being barred from donating potentially life-saving blood plasma that could be used to treat critically ill coronavirus patients.
According to the FDA, so-called convalescent plasma can only be collected from recovered individuals if they are eligible to donate blood. And the FDA’s gay blood ban, updated in 2015, prohibits donations from men who have had sex with men within 12 months.
Sabri Ben-Achour, a 39-year-old New York City resident, recently signed up to participate in Mount Sinai Health System’s convalescent plasma study after recovering from coronavirus last month.
NBC News reports: On Monday, he got a phone call: He had, indeed, contracted and recovered from COVID-19, his blood had a “robust” level of antibodies, and the Mount Sinai doctors wanted him to donate his blood as quickly as possible so his plasma could be extracted and used in an experimental infusion on critically ill COVID-19 patients. He was given an appointment Tuesday at the New York Blood Center and received a text with instructions to eat food and drink water before showing up. But just a few hours before his appointment, he said, he got a call from Mount Sinai saying, “Actually, you’re not going to be able to donate because you are on Truvada.” Ben-Achour, who is gay and HIV-negative, daily takes a Truvada pill, also known as pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, to protect himself against HIV infection. PrEP users take an HIV test four times a year to verify that they are still HIV-negative, which is a prerequisite for a Truvada prescription. Ben-Achour asked whether he could stop taking Truvada for a month and then donate his antibody-rich plasma, but he was told no: To donate any blood byproducts, he would have to both stop taking Truvada and — as is the policy for all men who have sex with men — abstain from sex for 12 months.
James West, a deputy editor at Mother Jones, reports that he was also turned away from the Mount Sinai study: A chance to help literally the entire world find a cure? Sign me up! But now, fully recovered, I’ve run into a roadblock that I’ve encountered before: I can’t donate my blood (and therefore my plasma) because, using the FDA’s regulatory parlance, I’m a man who has had sex with a man in the last 12 months. … “I have quite a few gay friends who are recovering from COVID-19 right now, so the group is quickly expanding,” said Peter Staley, the veteran AIDS activist whose groundbreaking work helped erode medical and regulatory barriers for early drugs to fight HIV. “The fact that you are being blocked from helping in a incredibly positive way to save lives, this is just utter craziness, and for me, as a long-term AIDS activist, it just makes me want to scream, because folks may not realize this, but a lot of what AIDS activists helped build is now being used to fight COVID.” The number of recovered gay and bisexual men will also undoubtedly grow, as the virus strikes big LGBTQ population centers around the country, like New York City. “To say ‘no, thank you’ to this community, when we want to individually help to save lives, something’s really wrong with that,” he said. “It triggers all the feelings we felt during the early years of the AIDS crisis.”