The baby has a tooth on the way and you’re struggling to find a bottle of liquid Panadol at the chemist. You’re not alone.
A shortage of cold and flu medicine is affecting pharmacies across the country, including here in Canberra, during a disease-ridden winter.
Simon Blacker is the president of the ACT Branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the owner of a community pharmacy in Erindale. He says a blend of COVID/influenza cases and staff isolations has been hammering the health system over the past few months and the pharmaceutical supply chain is not exempt.
“It varies a bit from location to location but we are seeing some supply shortages through the major wholesalers,” he says.
“A range of over-the-counter medicines are temporarily out of stock.”
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) keeps track of medicine supplies in Australia and currently has 340 drugs listed as being in current short supply, with 43 as critical.
Another 77 are anticipated to be in short supply, including anti-venom for the funnel web spider, and a drug used in leukaemia treatment.
From where he is, Simon says the cold and flu liquid medicines have been hit especially hard, including children’s paracetamol, as well as several prescription medications.
“With the number of COVID cases here in the ACT at the moment, it has to be probably the strongest demand I’ve ever seen for cough suppressants.”
Exacerbating the demand is the same supply issues that have plagued nearly every industry over the past few months, stemming from high fuel prices down to staff absences. To make matters worse, there is also a global shortage of the active ingredients in several prescription medicines.
“So we’ve got these global, national and local issues all impacting availability,” Simon says.
But there’s no cause for alarm at this stage. While you might struggle to find the exact brand you’re after, Simon says there are still plenty of alternatives available.
“Maybe it’s not the one you would grab at first, but there are always options on the shelves. We’re not at a critical point.”
This pales in comparison to what unfolded at the beginning of the pandemic in March and April of 2020, when the supply chain “really buckled”.
“At the time, the government stepped in and mandated pharmacists only give out one month’s worth of prescription medications at a time,” Simon says.
“There has been stock issues and logistical challenges since then due to lockdowns and illness, but we’re now familiar with dealing with it and it’s part and parcel of business at the moment.”
At about the same time, grocery stores suffered from an acute lack of toilet paper after the public heared about a shortage and snatched it up whenever they saw it. Simon says there is no evidence of such ‘panic buying’ happening in Canberra pharmacies at the moment.
“I don’t believe it’s causing a heap of stress for the community, because we’re not seeing any stockpiling.”
Simon hopes that as vaccination rates pick up and winter begins to release its icy grip on Canberra, the situation will ease.
In the meantime, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia has been consulted by the Federal Government in an effort to secure “sovereign capability” when it comes to medicines.
“We don’t have much manufacturing capability in Australia, so there are some measures in play which will hopefully guarantee certain levels of stock on shore at any one time,” Simon says.
The new medicine supply guarantee, co-signed by the Federal Government and drug manufacturers will require companies to hold a minimum of either four or six months of stock in Australia for certain medicines, but will come with price rises for up to 900 different drugs.
These measures are set to come into effect from 1 July, 2023.