While dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and the age of COVID-19, blood and plasma donations have become exceedingly important, which some experts believe should be taking precedence over controversial blood donation guidelines. However, this frontline emergency room doctor was flat-out denied the opportunity to donate because of his sexual orientation, but it might be an even greater loss due to surrounding circumstances.
On the north side of Chicago, Illinois, Dr. Dillon Barron is an ER doctor fighting on the front lines. He and his partner, Eric Seelbach, had tested positive for COVID-19, but have recovered and healed since. Now, both were excited to donate their anti-body rich plasma, seizing the chance that donating could help contribute to figuring out how to defeat the coronavirus. However, according to the Food and Drug Administration blood donation guidelines, men who have sex with men can only donate if they’ve abstained from sex for at least three months, regardless of relationship type or safe practices.
Still caring for COVID-19 patients, Dr. Barron told CBS Chicago, “We saw lots of death, lots of sad stories, lots of young people. I really felt passionate about doing something; wanting to be in control and feel like I was helping people.” So what is the science behind all of this?
It’s tricky. An infectious disease physician at University of Chicago and staff physician from the Howard Brown Health Center who’s also an HIV expert, Dr. Anu Hazra, said, “Short answer is there is no science currently to support that,” and commented on that the guidelines, “going from a lifetime ban, to a 12-month ban, to a 3-month ban, are based on 1983 regulations surrounding the HIV epidemic. But testing and screening have improved dramatically since then.”
Dr. Hazra’s advice is backing that, “individual risk assessments for every donor, regardless of whether they are gay or straight.” And according to CBS Chicago, a study found that “blood banks could be missing out on hundreds of thousands of pints of blood” due to the blood donation guidelines.
U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky agrees, adding, “There is no reason behind it that’s based on science,” supporting House Resolution 989. The resolution, introduced earlier this month, “expresses the sense of the House of Representatives that blood donation policies should be grounded in science, minimize deferral periods, and allow donations by all those who can safely make them.” And after all this debate, Schakowsky hopes that because the coronavirus is causing blood shortages, legislators will push to pass the resolution.