Amid the ongoing national blood shortage, the Food and Drug Administration recently announced it's considering a new strategy to screen gay and bisexual men for blood donation.
In 2015, gay and bisexual men were only permitted to donate if they hadn't had sexual contact for more than a year. During the pandemic, that timespan shortened to three months. Now the FDA says it will likely transition to individual screening questions to reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
Health officials say the shortage won't end until new donors step up. Vitalant is the nation’s largest independent, nonprofit organization focused exclusively on providing lifesaving blood services. Vitalant's Brooke Way says right now is a particularly important time to donate.
"Right now, we're in the holiday season," Way said. "It's usually a time where blood donations decrease because people are with their families, they're busy, they're traveling."
The blood shortage intensified during the pandemic as blood drives were canceled. Way is hoping new donors will feel inspired to start.
If you are nervous about donating, Way has many suggestions to make your experience as comfortable as possible. Start by researching if you're eligible to donate and what the process looks like.
"If you have any questions, there's a phone number listed you can call to get all of your questions answered," Way said.
On the day of your donation, Way says you should drink plenty of fluids and eat a low-fat meal.
"We encourage donors to have a low-fat meal because it's more of a hearty meal," Way said. "It's going to be less of a chance of getting an upset stomach after you donate."
Way says it also helps to donate with a friend or partner if you're nervous about the process.
"It's a thing to do as a couple," Way said. "Make each other feel comfortable just knowing you're doing good for the community."
During your donation, you're welcome to look away and distract yourself. If you're donating whole blood, the donation should take between five to 10 minutes.
"You can listen to music while you're giving blood," Way said. "Or just chat with the phlebotomist. They're usually very friendly and willing to talk about their day."
You can also watch a show on your phone or tablet. You'll also feel better if you paddle your feet during the donation. Moving your feet prevents you from getting lightheaded as your blood pressure drops. The more you squeeze your fist, the quicker it will be.
The best part comes after you donate when you get free snacks and drinks.
"You can have cookies, there are chips, whatever you love, you can really treat yourself after you've saved three lives with your one donation," Way said.
There are many ways to donate blood: through local drives, at some hospitals, or by signing up at a Vitalant location in your area.