The U.S. Is Trying To Keep Out Mexicans Who Want To Sell Their Blood Plasma
Among other supply chain issues sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic, the world now faces a shortage of blood plasma, which is used in life-saving therapies for people who have certain chronic illnesses. A new policy implemented by the Biden administration serves to make that shortage worse.
On June 15, Customs and Border Protection announced that Mexicans would no longer be permitted to enter the U.S. on temporary visitor visas to sell their plasma. The new policy now designates Mexican donors “labor for hire,” which makes it illegal for them to sell plasma while holding a B1/B2 visitor visa, as the majority of those donors have previously done.
The Immune Deficiency Foundation estimates that the restrictions on Mexican donors could reduce the U.S. plasma supply by 5–10 percent. Though that may not sound drastic, Georgetown University ethics professor and paid plasma expert Peter Jaworski calls it an “enormous” issue. Jaworski tells Reason that the pandemic had already reduced U.S.-based plasma collection by 20–25 percent. “We are in a medicinal crunch,” he says. “We don’t have enough of these medicines. Already there’s a shortage in Spain…and in other parts of the European Union as well. Unless we figure out a way to increase plasma collection, we’re not going to overcome those shortages.”
Demand for plasma is rising, too—growing annually between 6–8 percent.* Plasma-for-pay is key to solving this issue, but few nations are willing to acknowledge that reality.
Just five countries allow donors to receive payment for blood plasma—the United States, Germany, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic. That compensation model has led to these five nations having plasma collection surpluses, while countries that have to import plasma constantly grapple with shortages. Countries that allow paid plasma comprise 89 percent of the world’s plasma supply. The U.S. provides over 70 percent, making Biden’s move a potential catastrophe for the global importers of American plasma. In Spain, for example, La Razon reported that therapy providers have already had to space out plasma treatments due to shortages.
There are no alternatives to plasma-based medicines for the patients who use them. According to Jaworski, “they either get immunoglobulin or they suffer and sometimes die.” Roughly 300,000 Europeans and 125,000 Americans rely on plasma therapies to treat chronic illnesses—like Von Willebrand disease and hemophilia—and many more are treated with plasma after traumatic accidents or in preparation for surgeries. Researchers have looked to plasma in their efforts to treat COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s disease, making a reliable global supply all the more important.
Still, critics of paid blood plasma s
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