Expanded access to COVID antivirals ruled out

Andrew Brown |

People wanting to use COVID-19 anti-viral drugs will continue to need a doctor’s prescription.
People wanting to use COVID-19 anti-viral drugs will continue to need a doctor’s prescription.

The federal government has rejected a proposal that pharmacists be allowed to sell anti-viral treatments for COVID-19 over the counter.

Handing down its response to a House of Representatives inquiry into long COVID, the government said such anti-viral treatments should only be available to patients with a prescription from a doctor.

The long COVID inquiry handed down its findings in April 2023 and made nine recommendations, which included a nationally co-ordinated research program into the condition.

While the report urged that eligible patients under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme  be able to access antivirals at pharmacies, the government said it did not support that call.

“The government must comply with current legislation, which does not support pharmacists dispensing COVID-19 oral antivirals without a prescription or prescribing these medicines as pharmaceutical benefits,” the response paper said.

Long COVID has been defined as patients continuing to have or developing symptoms of the virus months after the initial infection.

The government response said the threat of COVID remained very real for those in the community “most at risk of severe illness”.

“Attention must also be turned to long-term impacts of COVID-19, including those that experience prolonged symptoms following an acute COVID-19 infection,” the response said.

“The government is committed to supporting a strong healthcare system that will deliver effective patient-centred care for people diagnosed with (long COVID) and provide the best possible health and wellbeing outcomes for patients.”

The Commonwealth agreed to back the recommendation for a single COVID database to be set up.

The response paper said the database would likely be handled by the future Australian Centre for Disease Control.

It also supported the inquiry’s recommendation for the federal government’s vaccination communication strategy to be updated.

“With high levels of hybrid immunity, ongoing communication will have a particular focus on the vulnerable and at-risk populations,” the response said.

The response to the long COVID committee comes as an inquiry looking into the federal government’s handling of COVID is set to get under way.

That inquiry will examine the response of federal agencies, but has come under fire for not including the responses of state and territory governments.