Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)—taking medication prior to risk activities—has been a key tool for preventing HIV since its release in 2012. However, with social distancing rules during COVID, use of PrEP may have changed. Social distancing is largely over, but PrEP use might not have returned to pre-pandemic rates.
Thomas O’Grady and fellow researchers analyzed pharmacy data from New York State to assess PrEP use trends in the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The graph shows the trend lines for total PrEP prescriptions in gray and new prescriptions in blue, as well as PrEP use prior to the pandemic. The shaded areas overlap with the first 6 months of the COVID-19 infections. The lines representing the forecasted prescriptions remain steady compared to the actual PrEP utilization which dropped off substantially in March 2020.
Reduced use could be natural. Social distancing rules during early COVID-19 changed behaviors. People were hooking up less due to COVID-19 thus reducing their risk of HIV and therefore their need for PrEP. The issue will be getting people to resume PrEP as COVID-19 winds down. PrEP can cost as much as $2,000 a month. This cost was prohibitive pre-covid. Following the pandemic, finances may be even tighter.
Currently, PrEP use data beyond 2020 is not available. More data beyond the first six months of the pandemic is needed to determine COVID’s long-term impact on prescription rates. Reduced PrEP use could precede increased HIV rates and new communication strategies may be needed to remind people of the benefits of PrEP.
Databyte via Thomas J. O’Grady, James M. Tesoriero, Yingchao Yuan, Evaluation of Trends in Preexposure Prophylaxis Prescriptions During the First 6 Months of the COVID-19 Pandemic in New York State. JAMA Network Open, 2022.