COVID-19 is not going away any time soon and we’re all having to find new ways to live that minimise the chances of catching it. That’s why we have outlined ways of having sex while managing the risk of COVID-19 as sex is an important part of life.
But it’s important to also think about your sexual health alongside managing the COVID-19 risk. The information below is all about PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), whether you’re restarting after a break during lockdown or looking to access it for the first time for HIV prevention.
PrEP is highly effective at protecting against HIV and a really important tool as we work towards ending HIV transmissions by 2030. If you have any additional questions please contact our free, confidential helpline THT Direct. You will find more information at iwantPrEPnow.
If you’re starting to have sex again, it’s important to restart PrEP correctly to ensure proper protection against HIV and for your peace of mind.
Cis gay men and trans women not taking gender affirming hormones can take a double dose (i.e. two PrEP pills) between two to 24 hours before sex then follow up with one pill daily for as long as needed. For some people this will be a return to daily PrEP dosing, for others it might be 'on-demand' use. When stopping PrEP, remember to keep taking one PrEP pill until you have two sex-free days).
For everyone else, take one PrEP pill per day for seven days before you have sex. Follow up with one PrEP pill per day for as long as needed and remember – you need to take one PrEP pill per day after the last sex, until you have had seven sex-free days when stopping.
If you think you've been exposed to HIV in a period when you haven't been taking PrEP, we recommend that you contact a sexual health clinic and ask about PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) and that you have an HIV test before restarting PrEP. PEP needs to be taken within 72 hours of a potential exposure to HIV and, ideally, within 24 hours.
If you’re not having sex, you don’t need to restart PrEP. You can start and stop PrEP any time you like. PrEP is only intended to be used when you are at risk of exposure to HIV.
We would recommend getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (including HIV) before starting to have sex again – even if you don’t have any symptoms. Lockdown has meant that most people have had fewer sexual partners, if any at all, and now is the perfect time to be sure you don’t have an STI and to know what your HIV status is.
You can use our HIV test finder to see how you can access an HIV test in your area.
Just days before the COVID-19 lockdown in March, the Government announced uncapped access to PrEP in England. Unfortunately, the roll out has been delayed by COVID-19 and the strain on NHS capacity. Progress is now being made with some clinics ready to go but when you can access PrEP through your local sexual health clinic will vary across the country. The best thing to do is to contact your usual sexual health clinic directly.
You can read all about PrEP on this webpage to find out if it’s the right option for you.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic many sexual health staff were redeployed to COVID wards but most have now returned. Social distancing and digital alternatives – like postal STI testing – are now in place, including when it comes to accessing PrEP.
You can find out how to access PrEP in the UK on our PrEP page.
If you’re on the PrEP Impact Trial in England, you have access to an ongoing interim supply of PrEP to bridge any gap between the trial ending and PrEP being available on the NHS from sexual health clinics.
In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland PrEP is available from sexual health clinics with no cap on numbers. Although some of these services may have been paused or reduced owing to the current social distancing restrictions. Please contact your local sexual health clinic directly.
Self sourcing PrEP
If you would like to buy PrEP online then all the information about who to buy from is available on I Want PrEP Now.
During Covid-19, if you self-source PrEP (buy it online), you might experience some delays in delivery. It's always advisable to order a PrEP refill at least four weeks before you are due to run out to ensure you have plenty of medication and allow some time for delays. You can be assured that online sellers are doing their best to maintain a smooth and prompt delivery service for their customers.
If you have any questions about accessing or restarting PrEP, please contact our free confidential helpline THT Direct on 0808 802 1221.