Pharmac's approach to funding COVID-19 treatments

We responded quickly to the needs of New Zealanders to access medicines to treat COVID-19. Our original approach was fundamentally different.

Funding for COVID-19 treatments

COVID-19 vaccines and treatments were initially paid for from a separate fund provided by the government.

From 1 July 2023, the budget for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments was added to the Combined Pharmaceutical Budget (CPB). The CPB is now $1.5 billion. 

Vulnerable populations a priority

We know that Māori have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Based on the advice we have received from our clinical experts, we know that Māori and Pacific peoples are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

Estimated inequities in COVID-19 infection fatality rates by ethnicity for Aotearoa New Zealand – New Zealand Medical Journal(external link)

We designed the access criteria for COVID-19 treatments to target people who would most benefit and those who have the greatest health need. 

To help us do this, clinical advisors are included in the membership of our COVID-19 Treatments Advisory Group. 

Advice received from the COVID-19 Treatments Advisory Group

Initial procurement process

Now that the response to COVID-19 has moved to a more business-as-usual footing, so to has our procurement process. Applications to fund treatments for COVID-19 must be prioritised against all the other treatments we would like to fund for New Zealanders.

About prioritisation

Initially, our approach was quite different.

Pharmac bought fixed volumes of these medicines directly from suppliers

Normally, Pharmac negotiates a price with the supplier and lists the product on the Pharmaceutical Schedule (the list of funded medicines). Pharmacies then purchase the medicines as needed from wholesalers or suppliers. The Ministry then reimburses the pharmacy. Pharmac is not usually involved in this supply and payment arrangement.

How our usual funding process works

Why did Pharmac buy the treatments?

At the height of the pandemic, there was overwhelming international demand for COVID-19 treatments. We had to commit to purchases early to ensure New Zealanders could access them when needed.

We were often considering buying these products before they had received Medsafe approval, sometimes when they were still in clinical trials. The global response to COVID-19 was a fast moving one.

We still relied on clinical experts

One thing that didn’t change was that our decisions were informed by expert clinical advice. We formed a COVID-19 Treatments Advisory Group. The people in the group come from primary and secondary health care and include members of the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Therapeutics Technical Advisory Group.

Advice from the COVID-19 Treatments Advisory Group

Being vaccinated and boosted remains your best defence against COVID-19

Book your vaccine today(external link)

For those who do become unwell with COVID-19, a range of treatments are available.

Broad portfolio of treatments

Pharmac made sure New Zealanders could access medicines to treat and prevent COVID-19.

Details of the COVID-19 medicines Pharmac has secured

Medsafe approves medicines

Pharmac does not approve these medicines for use in New Zealand. Medsafe is the government agency responsible for ensuring that medicines meet standards of safety, effectiveness, and quality. 

Approval process for COVID-19 treatments – Medsafe's website(external link)

Who to contact

If you have questions about Pharmac’s role in New Zealand’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, email