7 May 2020

Drug shortages ‘not what they seem’

COVID-19 Pharmaceuticals

Panic buying and stockpiling in recent weeks has created an impression of drug shortages across the country, but the TGA says the situation seems worse than it really is.

This is despite recent reports by News Corp Australia publications which attributed almost 600 drug shortages, listed on the TGA’s website, as being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the numbers tell a different story, with 160 new national medicine shortages reported to the TGA in March this year, compared with 165 over the same period in 2019.

The TGA also confirmed the majority of medicine shortages published on its website were not directly attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Medicine shortages occur for a number of reasons, and in many cases if one brand of a medicine is in short supply in Australia, other brands are still available,” a spokesperson from the TGA said.

The TGA attributed most disruptions of medicine supply to local out-of-stock incidents, driven by increased demand at community pharmacies and hospitals throughout the pandemic.

“National level shortages are published on the TGA website, however transient local out-of-stocks are not,” the TGA said.

In the situation of a localised shortage of any medicines, health professionals are being told to contact their wholesaler or the drugs sponsor directly to arrange supply.

In addition, GPs who are experiencing vaccine shortages of Pneumovax 23 are also being told by the TGA that it is expected to be back in stock by the end of this month.

Currently, this shortage only affects the private market and any patient receiving Pneumovax 23 under the National Immunisation Program, should still able to access it.

In other developments, The Department of Health has confirmed that medicines containing hydroxychloroquine sulfate, which have experienced shortages on the private market, will be made available to the national medical stockpile from a number of pharmaceutical companies.

Controversially, some of this supply will be funded by Mr Clive Palmer, who recently came under investigation by the TGA for his advertisements endorsing hydroxychloroquine as a potential cure for COVID-19.

The investigation has since been dropped by the TGA, but the regulator has refused to comment on whether Mr Palmer’s agreement to supply the national stockpile influenced the proceedings.

And for anyone worried about how the distribution of hydroxychloroquine products to the stockpile might affect shortages for patients in the community, the Department of Health said the doses being acquired were not products that were for the treatment of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

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