Andy Cohen is speaking out about what he says is a discriminatory practice happening at the federal level when it comes to LGBTQ people being able to donate blood and convalescent plasma.
The 51-year-old talk show host tested positive for the coronavirus in March and recovered from COVID-19 by the end of that month. Since then, he said he's been trying help those still suffering from the disease, but due to laws against men who have sex with men, he can't.
"I signed up for a program for COVID-19 survivors where you could donate plasma, which is rich in antibodies, to those still battling the virus," he said on Thursday's episode of "Watch What Happens Live." "I was told that, due to antiquated and discriminatory guidelines by the FDA to prevent HIV, I am ineligible to donate blood because I'm a gay man."
Cohen later explained that since the coronavirus is "ravaging our planet," the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is saying "there is an urgent need for plasma from survivors."
What is plasma?
Convalescent plasma is the liquid portion of blood taken from survivors of a disease that is rich in antibodies. Precious for people sick with COVID-19, doctors hope using it can speed up recovery for the sickest patients.
Plasma donors have to confirm they had COVID-19 and have fully recovered. That means having documentation of a positive test, which can be difficult since there is limited access to testing across the country. They also need to either be 14 days from their last symptoms and have a negative COVID-19 test, or 28 days from their last symptoms — no negative test required.
As of this week, the American Red Cross has produced 200 units of convalescent plasma donated by almost 150 eligible donors. The goal is to send out more than 1,000 units to hospitals, which would require 500 to 600 donors.
“Unfortunately, the demand is far exceeding the supply, even though many people in our organization are working around the clock on this endeavor," Dr. Pampee Young, chief medical officer of the organization, told TODAY.
Can gay or bisexual men donate blood or plasma?
Earlier this month, due to an “urgent need for blood,” the FDA revised its blood donor guidelines, easing the restrictions on men who have sex with men. The new guidelines reduce the donation deferral period for sexually active gay and bisexual men from 12 months to three. These healthy men will now have to abstain from same-sex sexual activity for 90 days before they are eligible to donate blood.
The same restrictions apply to recovered COVID-19 patients who wish to donate plasma. That 90-day period is significantly less than the restrictions that existed before the pandemic, but Cohen argues any restriction based on sexual orientation is inherently homophobic in its practice.
"Even the new relaxed rules require gay men to abstain from sex for three months, whether they're in a monogamous relationship or not before giving blood, though no such blanket restrictions exist for people of other sexual orientations," he said.
Cohen points out that all donated blood, no matter the person's sexual orientation, is screened for HIV. He suggested a rapid HIV test could be given before a person donates to ensure they are negative.
"So, why the three-month rule?" Cohen questions. "Why are members from my community being excluded from helping out when so many people are sick and dying? Maybe because we're valuing stigma over science? I don't know. My blood could save a life but instead it's over here boiling."
Cohen also noted that since the coronavirus pandemic began, people have adapted in many ways, including the wearing of masks and social distancing. So why can't the FDA adapt as well?
"It is bad enough that quarantine has us wondering what day it is, I'm sitting here wondering what year it is," Cohen said. "We need to think about this and do better."