PHARMAC places temporary dispensing limits on paracetamol

Media release

PHARMAC is placing temporary dispensing limits on Government-funded paracetamol from Monday 9 March 2020.

PHARMAC is placing temporary dispensing limits on Government-funded paracetamol from Monday 9 March 2020.

“With the outbreak of COVID-19, it’s inevitable that there will be disruptions to supply chains and the first we are seeing of this is paracetamol,” says PHARMAC’s director of operations Lisa Williams.

PHARMAC has been advised that international manufacturing sites for the active pharmaceutical ingredient (raw material) for paracetamol have been closed due to quarantine and other restrictions connected with COVID-19. The main site for the raw materials for paracetamol is in China.

Quarantines can slow or even halt activities in manufacturing plants and can impact transportation and receiving goods through ports.

PHARMAC is reducing the amount that can be dispensed per patient (except where needed for chronic use) and is putting in place monthly dispensing arrangements (rather than three monthly) for funded paracetamol.

The temporary limits are for paracetamol prescribed to you by a health professional, they don’t apply to paracetamol that you can purchase yourself without a prescription

There is currently enough stock in New Zealand to meet four months of normal demand.

It is important that access to the stock we have is carefully managed to ensure that all New Zealanders who need funded paracetamol over the coming months will have access to it.

The temporary dispensing limits will allow the contracted supplier, and potentially other suppliers if necessary, time to get additional stock, until normal supplies of the raw material resumes.

Paracetamol is an important funded medicine for many people in New Zealand, over 365 million funded tablets are dispensed each year.

“Impacts to supply of paracetamol is a global issue and we don’t know yet when normal supply of this raw material will resume. The supplier will continue to update us regularly, and once supply resumes dispensing will return to normal,” concludes Ms Williams. 

Background information on COVID-19 and supply of pharmaceuticals

  • As a large number of the medicines imported to New Zealand have some or all of their manufacturing and production steps in China, PHARMAC has proactively contacted all its contracted medicine and device suppliers to seek information about any potential impacts to supply and their contingency plans. 
  • The majority have responded to confirm that they have contingency plans in place and are actively managing their supply chains.
  • Some medicine suppliers have advised us that they anticipate future disruptions due to supply issues, whether due to manufacturing or transportation. 
  • We are working closely with them to determine the best approach to manage potential medicine and device shortages, which may include temporary restrictions on dispensing volumes, to ensure that all New Zealanders have access to what they need. 

Background to supply contracts

  • Most medicine and device suppliers under PHARMAC contracts are required to keep a minimum stock in New Zealand equal to two months demand.
  • There is typically another four-six weeks’ worth of stock in New Zealand across the wholesale and retail supply chain.
  • PHARMAC contracts place the onus on the medicine and medical device suppliers to source alternatives if there is likely to be an interruption to continuity of supply or to pay for the cost of an alternative that PHARMAC finds.
  • Medicines suppliers can, for example, source alternatives from elsewhere in their own global supply chain or work with competitors to bring in replacement products from other markets.
  • Where suppliers go below or think there is the potential that they will go below the minimum level of stock, we expect them to contact us with their management plan for the continuity of supply, whether that be the same stock or an alternative supply.

Read more

> PHARMAC's advice to pharmacists about paracetamol

> PHARMAC's response to coronavirus