Rep. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat currently running for the state Senate, says he was turned away Friday while attempting to donate his plasma at a OneBlood truck set up in the parking lot of the Pembroke Park church where his father’s a pastor.
Jones, who went to donate plasma with his father, mother and brother, all of whom recently recovered from COVID-19, said his donation was “deferred” after he answered “yes” to a screening question that asked if he had sex with a man in the last three months.
Jones is one of Florida’s few openly gay lawmakers.
The question is part of a Food and Drug Administration rule called the Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM) policy, which generally bars gay or bisexual men from donating blood for a 12-month period. Amid the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s, the FDA implemented a lifetime ban on blood donations from all men who had sex with men since 1983.
That policy was in place until 2015, when the FDA revised the guidelines from a lifetime ban to a 12-month deferral period. Because of the need for donations to treat COVID-19 patients with convalescent plasma, the FDA implemented a new rule in April that reduced the period from 12 to three months of abstinence before a gay or bisexual man can donate.
Men who are in monogamous relationships, test HIV-negative or are not exposed to HIV must still wait three months to give blood, according to the FDA.
A spokeswoman for OneBlood, the second largest not-for-profit independent blood center in the country, said the blood center must adhere to FDA guidelines such as the MSM policy to remain accredited.
Jones, who said he donated blood two or three years ago, said he thought OneBlood was taking donations on a case-by-case basis given the heightened need for plasma. He said he plans to express his disappointment with the company on Monday.
“It’s 2020 and this is still the narrative?” Jones told the Miami Herald. “It’s unfortunate.”
The demand from hospitals for convalescent plasma to use in treating COVID-19 patients has increased by 500%, OneBlood CEO and Sunny Isles Beach Mayor Bud Scholl said at a press conference last month.
Plasma therapy is an experimental practice that uses plasma taken from people who have recovered from a viral infection and injects it into those who are hospitalized and very sick. The treatment has been used in patients during recent infectious outbreaks like Ebola, SARS and H1N1 influenza.