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RACGP welcomes COVID-19 oral antiviral decision

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has welcomed the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee’s (PBAC) recommending adding COVID-19 oral antivirals to the Prescriber Bag or “doctor’s bag”.

It follows reports of patients experiencing difficulties receiving the treatments in a timely way - even with a prescription. Both molnupiravir (sold as Lagevrio) and nirmatrelvir plus ritonavir (sold as Paxlovid), are part of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), and earlier this year the Government announced a campaign to raise awareness of the treatments.

The decision on the Prescriber Bag will now have to be supported by the federal Government before it can be included in the Prescriber Bag, a measure that RACGP President Adj. Professor Karen said will be a positive step forward in helping people who are COVID-19-positive with high risk factors.

“This is a win for patients across Australia,” she said.

“It’s wonderful news the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee has heeded our calls. We have been advocating for these antivirals to be added to the doctor’s bag in the event access to a pharmacy is problematic in emergency situations or for rural and remote locations. This means the medication can be dispensed directly from the GP.

“Many patients, GPs and general practice teams have reported issues with patchy availability making it hard for eligible patients to get their hands on them. The doctor’s bag contains drugs to treat life-threatening emergencies and other serious medical conditions. So, adding the antivirals to the doctor’s bag will make a real difference, this is a positive step forward in the fight against this virus.”

RACGP Vice President Dr Bruce Willett echoed the President’s comments

“This is great news for GPs and the patients we care for at risk of severe effects if they contract COVID-19. GPs are best placed to prescribe these drugs and the doctor’s bag enables safe and quick access,” he said.

“Earlier this year, we had the Pharmacy Guild citing national GP shortages as a reason for government to make these treatments available from community pharmacies across Australia without a prescription. That might sound great in theory for patients, but there are many dangers to placing this responsibility with pharmacies.

“These oral antiviral treatments are a great source of treatment but, like many drugs, they are not without risk and need to be carefully prescribed. GPs have the medical training and expertise necessary, and we understand the urgency of getting the medicines out to patients early to ensure effective treatment because timing is key when it comes to COVID-19 oral antivirals.

“It’s vital to keep in mind that patients needing these treatments will require a medical review of liver and renal function as well as a follow-up to check for adverse reactions. Consider too a GP may need to seek a clinical history to ensure medication safety. These treatments are not suitable for everyone and the patients who are eligible often have complex chronic conditions that need to be very carefully considered.

“So, the RACGP looks forward to the decision from the Government and hopefully the next step will see the COVID-19 oral antivirals officially being added to the doctor’s bag.”

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