COVID-19

Rich Aussies queue jumping for Covid meds

The revelation comes as pharmacists ask the government to allow them to dispense the medications without a GP script to speed up access to the drugs which have to be taken within the first five days of infection.The medications are in limited supply and the TGA has ruled they should be prescribed to adults who are “at increased risk of hospitalisation or death”.However the Consumer’s Health Forum (CHF) said there was evidence of cashed-up Aussies who don’t meet this criteria paying up to $1200 to access the medication outside the nation’s drug subsidy scheme.“The current arrangement is that people who do not meet the current criteria but can afford to, are paying for the antivirals as a non-PBS script item. This is clearly inequitable, these medications are not cheap,” said CHF chief Leanne Wells.“We do not want Covid treatment arrangements to be based on means not need,” she said.Pharmaceutical Society Australia president Dr Fei Sim said she was not personally aware of any wealthy people buying the antivirals when they did not fit the criteria and believed the vulnerable should get priority access. However, she confirmed “it is within a legal framework” for people to but them outside the PBS if they had a GP prescription.Two Covid antivirals Molnupiravir and Paxlovid are available in Australia but to be effective they must be used within the first five days of infection.As Covid hospitalisation rates surge, Health Minister Mark Butler and state health ministers are frustrated that doctors are not prescribing the medicines to enough vulnerable Australians.If more people were able to access them it is hoped hospitalisation numbers and deaths would go down.Chair of the National Pharmaceutical Services Association Richard Vincent said prescribing of the medications had lifted by around 60 per cent in the last week with around 12,000 scripts for Molnupiravir and 3000 for Paxlovid.“But is still very low relative to Covid cases,” he said.Paxlovid can reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death by 89 per cent and Molnupiravir can reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death from Covid by 30-50 per cent.Paxlovid interacts with a wide range of medications including some of the most commonly prescribed pills in Australia and has to be prescribed with caution.Dr Sim is urging the government to consider allowing pharmacists to provide the antiviral medication to patients without waiting for a GP script.GPs are overwhelmed dealing with multiple viral outbreaks and delayed diagnoses in the wake of Covid lockdowns at the same time as they try to vaccinate the population against the flu and Covid and getting an appointment can take weeks.“The question then is, can people get into a GP clinic in a timely manner to enable timely immunisation of the antivirals? And if not, what else can we do? Can we look around and see what other services are available to ensure that people can have timely access?” Dr Sim told News Corp.“Pharmacists are medicine experts so pharmacists do actually have the clinical expertise, and medicine knowledge around antivirals … let’s work together and see how can we enable us to utilize this particular workforce.”There is a risk that by having pharmacists dispense the medication without a GP prescription it would be even easier for wealthy Australians to jump the queue.Royal Australian College of General practitioners vice president Dr Bruce Willtt said the anti-viral medications had so many contraindications it would not be safe for pharmacists to dispense them without a GP script.Health Minister Mark Butler has asked the government’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee to expand access to the antiviral treatments to more people.“We need a full armoury of responses to this pandemic that continues to go on,” he said.

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