Sexually Active Gay and Bisexual Men Banned from U.K. COVID-19 Blood Plasma Trials

Gay and bisexual men have been told they cannot take part in blood plasma trials as part of efforts to treat COVID-19 patients because "men who have sex with men are at an increased risk of acquiring certain infections through sex."

Doctors are carrying out tests to understand if blood plasma from those who have recovered from COVID-19 can be used to treat other patients who are still ill with the virus.

The plasma of survivors contains coronavirus antibodies and it is hoped that patients who are struggling to overcome the virus will have their immune symptoms strengthened with the plasma.

However, the decision to exclude gay and bisexual men has been met with criticism by equalities campaigners.

Critical care manager Andy Roberts says his offer to donate blood plasma was rejected after he was asked about his sexuality and told he was not eligible due to being in a same-sex relationship.

Roberts' partner Keith Ward told ITV News: "It only goes to show that in the U.K. being gay is still thought as a form of contamination, so if you're straight and sleep with a different person every weekend it's safer according to [the rules]."

Gay and bisexual men blood plasma
Gay and bisexual men have been prevented from donating blood plasma for COVID-19 trials Getty

Current guidelines on blood donation which are set out by the Department of Health and are implemented by the NHS Blood and Transplant service, state that although gay and bisexual men are not automatically prevented from donating blood, they must wait for "three months after having oral or anal sex with another man before donating."

The guidance adds: "This rule applies to every man, regardless of their sexual orientation, whether they're in a stable relationship or whether they use protection such as condoms or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)."

The guidance goes on to state that the three-month rule exists to "reduce the risk of any very recently acquired infections not being detected on screening and further tests."

It also states that "at a population level, men who have sex with men are at an increased risk of acquiring certain infections through sex."

Laura Russell, director of policy at Stonewall, told Newsweek: "It's really upsetting that gay and bi men who want to help in the fight against coronavirus are being prevented from doing so.

"The decision on whether people should be able to give blood or plasma should be based on individual risk assessments, not on people's sexual orientation."

An NHS Blood and Transplant spokesperson said: "We are using the current donor selection guidelines. The Government has set the three month deferral based on expert advice from a Department of Health and Social Care expert committee called SABTO.

"We appreciate that any deferral is disappointing if you want to save lives by giving blood, platelets or plasma.

"We recognise that people want to be considered as individuals as much as possible. Separately to the convalescent plasma trial, we are already working collaboratively with LGBT+ groups on blood donation, through the FAIR steering group.

"The FAIR group is using an evidence-based approach to explore if a more individualised blood donation risk assessment can be safely and practically introduced, while ensuring the safe supply of blood to patients.

"We want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to donate whilst continuing to ensure the safety of patients remains our number one priority."