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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – New changes to FDA regulations this week will make more Oklahomans eligible to donate blood, ultimately leading to more lives saved across the state.

The FDA reversal of a 20-year-old ban affected those who spent time overseas potentially at risk of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, commonly known as “mad cow disease.”

“Many donors haven’t even tried to donate blood because they knew about the deferral,” said Peggy Barlow-Flug, the executive director of donor services, technical and trading operations for the Oklahoma Blood Institute.

The updated change will remove the deferral recommendations with the risk of “mad cow disease” for those who spent time in the United Kingdom from 1980-1996; those who spent time in France and Ireland from 1980-2001; and those who went through a blood transfusion in the U.K., France or Ireland from 1980-present.

Two years prior, the FDA removed several other European countries from the ban, but the new changes include the remaining countries affected.

Many of those across Oklahoma who were previously ineligible have been military members and their families, like those at Tinker Air Force Base, who were abroad during that time span.

The added number of possible donors could help a hurting resource, which has seen fewer donations since the pandemic.

“The key is making people aware,” said Carson Cunningham, Oklahoma Blood Institute’s public relations manager. “It’s a constant rollercoaster to keep donation numbers up. Even when they are good, all it takes is a few emergency situations to where the supply has dwindled.”

The reversal could also lead to more changes to federal bans on blood donations of all types. Until 2015, there was a lifetime ban on men who have sex with men (MSM). Over recent years, that ban has become less restrictive and some call for the restrictions on MSM to be removed entirely.

“The FDA is constantly reviewing the regulations to see where we can make improvements,” said Barlow-Flug. “They have referred to several things over the last couple of years so that we can have more donors.”

If you would like to find out if you’re eligible to donate blood, call the Oklahoma Blood Institute eligibility hotline at 888-308-3924.