Feds say no to OTC covid antivirals

4 minute read

That’s a hard no to pharmacists, but the new Centre for Disease Control will get the nod to collect ‘some level’ of national covid data.

The federal government has ruled out allowing pharmacists to dispense covid antivirals over the counter, saying doing so would violate current state and federal legislation. 

In its formal response to the Inquiry into long covid and repeated covid infections, the government made it clear it would not support the Inquiry’s recommendation permitting pharmacists to “initiate” antiviral treatments to eligible patients under the PBS. 

“Antiviral treatments for [covid] are currently classified as Schedule 4 (Prescription Only) medicines through their scheduling in the Poisons Standard,” the response said. 

“Under state and territory law, pharmacists are usually prohibited from prescribing Schedule 4 medicines, but this is ultimately a matter for states and territories, which implement the Poisons Standard through local Poisons Acts or equivalent. 

“The Government must comply with current legislation, which does not support pharmacists dispensing [covid] oral antivirals without a prescription or prescribing these medicines as pharmaceutical benefits. 

“The National Health Act 1953 and subordinate legislation do not authorise pharmacists to prescribe pharmaceutical benefits that are eligible for PBS subsidies.” 

Seven of the Inquiry’s nine recommendations were endorsed in full or in principle by the government, including the establishment of a single covid database under the future Centre for Disease Control. 

While the government stopped short of committing to funding and implementing the database in its response, claiming that linking data could produce the same benefits at a lower cost, it confirmed some level of national covid data collection would be overseen by the CDC. 

“The Government recognises the benefits of integrated data sets for [covid] and other infectious diseases and has numerous projects underway to improve data integration,” the response said. 

“While the functions of the Australian Centre for Disease Control (CDC) are still being finalised, it is anticipated that some data-related activities will fall within its scope. 

“The AIHW and Australian Bureau of Statistics are currently examining options to bring together some of the data in separate linked datasets, such as the Covid Register and PersonLevel Integrated Data Asset (formerly known as Multi-Agency Data Integration Project), potentially through the Australian National Data Integration Infrastructure (ANDII) project.” 

With regards to managing the diagnosis and treatment of long covid, the government reiterated the Inquiry’s emphasis on primary care as the sector most responsible for diagnosing and managing long covid.  

It supported recommendations to develop evidence-based diagnostic guidelines and treatment pathways for long covid, increasing educational support for GPs and other primary care providers and rolling out tailored mental health services for people with long covid. 

However, the government said it was not responsible for expanding CPD requirements to include long covid resources, given that these requirements were overseen by non-Commonwealth organisations. 

The government also committed to the development of evidence-based guidelines and treatment pathways for diagnosing and managing long covid, implementing regular reviews of PBS listings for covid antivirals and rolling out tailored mental health services for people with long covid. 

Established in September 2022, the federal inquiry into long covid and repeated covid identified a number of issues and inconsistencies limiting access to long-term covid care, including the potential underdiagnosis of long covid, as well as the absence of diagnostic tests, evidence-based guidelines and treatment pathways mandating consistency across long covid care models. 

The report, tabled in April last year, outlined nine recommendations aimed at increasing awareness of long covid and strengthening support for individuals living with long covid, including developing multidisciplinary primary care-based health services to support long-term management. 

The government’s full response to the inquiry is available here

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