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 approach has been fundamentally different.

These medicines are funded separately

COVID-19 treatments are paid for from a separate fund provided by the government. This does not change the amount of funding available in the budget for other medicines, known as the Combined Pharmaceutical Budget (CPB).  

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)

Due to the worldwide demand for these treatments there are limited supplies available. We are designing access criteria that target those who would most benefit and those who have the greatest health need. 

To help us do this, Māori clinical advisors from primary and secondary care are included in the membership of our COVID-19 Treatments Advisory Group. 

This is not business as usual

Our approach is quite different from how Pharmac usually works.

Pharmac is buying fixed volumes of these medicines directly from suppliers

Normally, Pharmac negotiates a price with the supplier and lists it 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.

Read more about how our usual funding process works

Why is Pharmac buying the treatments?

There is overwhelming international demand for COVID-19 treatments. We must commit to purchases early to ensure New Zealanders can access them when needed.

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

The Ministry of Health, Te Whatu Ora, and Pharmac are collaborating on ways to get these medicines to where they are needed.

We still rely on clinical experts

One thing that hasn’t changed is that our decisions are 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.

More about the COVID-19 Treatments Advisory Group

Why can’t Pharmac fund other medicines this quickly?

Pharmac’s assessment processes can be agile and timely. However, unlike COVID-19 treatments, the number of potential medicines we could fund greatly exceeds the money available in the Combined Pharmaceutical Budget (CPB).

To make sure New Zealand gets the best health outcomes for its pharmaceutical spend, we have to prioritise new medicines against each other. This generally requires an additional level of assessment. Some medicines will not be funded (or will not be funded quickly) due to lack of available budget after we’ve prioritised them for funding.

More about how we prioritise funding applications for medicines

Being vaccinated and boosted is the best defence against COVID-19

Book your vaccine today (external link)

For those who do become unwell with COVID-19, we have secured a range of treatments.

Broad portfolio of treatments

Pharmac is making sure New Zealanders can access medicines to treat and prevent COVID-19.

Detail 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. 

Read more about the 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