Bill would let minors access HIV prevention meds

BOSTON — Massachusetts 17-year-olds can access birth control, abortion, and both testing and treatment for HIV, but they cannot access HIV prevention medication, including in cases where a doctor recommends it.

Legislation before the Joint Committee on Public Health (H 2349 / S 1404) would change that, closing what one sponsor called a “gap” in state law that prevents younger adults from acquiring medication to block HIV infections.

Rep. Jack Lewis of Framingham, one of the bill’s lead authors, told the committee that youth between the ages of 13 and 24 account for 15 percent of all new HIV cases in Massachusetts, indicating a significant unmet need for broader use of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, medication to prevent infections.

“Because HIV prevention medication did not exist when the current laws were written, the same 17-year-old who currently has access to birth control, abortion services, HIV testing, and HIV treatment -- even if parental consent cannot be obtained -- currently cannot access HIV prevention medication, even if her doctor recommends it and believes that not having access to this medication dramatically increases her chances of contracting HIV,” Lewis, a Democrat, said.

Supporters warned the committee that HIV risks are disproportionately greater for LGBTQ youth -- in part because male-to-male sex is the most common source of HIV transmission -- and for people of color.

Sen. Julian Cyr, who filed the bill alongside Lewis, said 35 percent of adolescents and young adults recently diagnosed in Massachusetts were Black or Latinx, higher than their share of the overall population.

Cyr, a Truro Democrat, called PrEP “a game-changing medication” with the potential to save lives.

“Speaking as a queer man, virtually all of my friends and peers take PrEP. I take PrEP,” Cyr said. “This is just something that is part of good public health, but we need to make sure that minors in Massachusetts, particularly LGBTQ youth who may not have a supportive parent or guardian, get access to this life-saving medication.”