10 August 2022

RACGP: Pharmacy antiviral push a recipe for disaster

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has warned that allowing over-the-counter dispensing of COVID-19 antiviral treatments could jeopardise patient safety.

It comes following the Pharmacy Guild calling for over-the-counter COVID-19 antiviral access without a prescription across Australia.

RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen Price said that patient safety must come first.

“We must do more to get these treatments in the hands of those who need them, but over-the-counter pharmacy dispensing is not the answer,” she said.

“While oral antivirals are critical for the management of COVID-19, they are not without risks to patients, so any changes to access must guarantee patient safety. GPs are the key to safely prescribing these treatments. We have a strong and, in many cases, long-standing connection with our patients and we know their health history including existing health conditions or other factors which may impact their eligibility for these medicines. We also have procedures in place to ensure patients can access the medicines in time and have appropriate and rigorous follow up care procedures.

“Allowing pharmacists to prescribe and dispense antivirals will not improve access and there are significant risks to patients given 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

“Keep in mind too that comparisons to other countries, such as New Zealand, do not take into account the significant differences in models of primary care, variations in required pharmacy training, and differing safety classifications of medicines – it’s like comparing apples with oranges. These comparisons are inappropriate and should not be used to justify over-the-counter oral antivirals in Australia.

“Pharmacies should keep their focus on the job at hand, which is availability of stock, rather than the provision of oral antivirals without a prescription. There should be a website showing where stock is available, as they have previously done for rapid antigen test stocks. This should be done collaboratively to ensure that all pharmacies are listed nation-wide, rather than pharmacists associated with one particular organisation.

“These treatments can make the difference between someone suffering relatively minor effects or ending up in hospital. However, we must proceed with caution because the last thing we want to do is potentially endanger patients.”

Media enquiries

Journalists and media outlets seeking comment and information from the RACGP can contact John Ronan, Ally Francis and Stuart Winthrope via: