A push to allow access to COVID-19 treatments without prescriptions has triggered safety concerns.
There are — Paxlovid and Lagevrio — and while early treatment is critical to lessen the effects of the virus, access is restricted.
People are eligible for the treatments with a prescription from a GP or nurse.
However, Australia’s pharmacy body wants the federal government to allow them to be supplied over the counter to speed up access upon infection.
Pharmacy Guild president Trent Twomey says wait times to see GPs are getting longer, which is a problem considering the window to use the medications.
“Given the treatment program of these life-saving antiviral medicines needs to commence within five days of the initial onset of COVID-19 symptoms, it’s vital patients test early and often and receive treatment without long delays,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
Professor Twomey says New Zealand recently followed the example of Canada and the United Kingdom by dispensing antivirals at local pharmacies.
However, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) believes patient safety should be prioritised.
While treatments need to be provided more quickly, issuing them over-the-counter is not the answer, says RACGP president Karen Price.
“Allowing pharmacists to prescribe and dispense antivirals will not improve access and there are significant risks to patients,” Professor Price said.
“These drugs have what we call ‘contraindications’, which is the term used to describe when a particular treatment should not be used, as well as interactions with other common medications.”
She said general practitioners know the health history of patients and can assess the potential impacts of the antivirals, while pharmacies cannot.
“Pharmacies should keep their focus on the job at hand, which is availability of stock,” Professor Price said.
“There should be a website showing where stock is available, as they have previously done for rapid antigen test stocks.”
She said antivirals can be the difference between a patient having mild effects from the virus or ending up in hospital.
“However, we must proceed with caution because the last thing we want to do is potentially endanger patients,” Professor Price said.
Health Minister Mark Butler says prescription rates almost tripled following the expansion of antiviral access in July.
Australia recorded more than 27,000 COVID-19 cases and 133 deaths on Wednesday, with nearly 4,500 people in hospital with the virus.