Disruptions to medicine supplies 'inevitable'

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty
Drug-buying agency Pharmac is warning further disruptions to medicine supplies are inevitable, as measures are taken to restrict the spread of Covid-19.

Increasing restrictions on air travel and shutdowns around the world have been announced over the past week, and almost 65 percent of medications arrive in New Zealand via passenger planes.

Air New Zealand announced today it is reducing its long-haul capacity by 85 percent.

Suppliers are required to hold a minimum of two months of stock in New Zealand and it estimated there are another two months' worth of drugs held by retailers.

Pharmac's director of operations Lisa Williams told Checkpoint while it is already rationing prescription paracetamol, it will ration other medications, if necessary.

"It's inevitable there are going to be disruptions to supply, whether or not that's due to manufacturing being reduced overseas, or because of supply chains," Williams said.

"But the buffer that we have in New Zealand of product will help us manage those."

As supplies and raw materials for locally made medicines all come from overseas, Williams said all medicines were facing the risk of short supply.

"The government's also been really clear that the pharmaceutical supply chain and medicine supply chain is one of utmost importance to New Zealand. So we're working to ensure that air freight routes are open for imports and exports."

All Pharmac's contracts with suppliers require them to find alternative products if they cannot supply their own product, Williams said.

"The great thing that we have in New Zealand is we do have many of our products that are under contract to supply. And we have good stock holdings of most of our medicines in the country.

"We're not in a position right now where we have any particular concerns about particular medicines," she said.

Suppliers trying to find more vaccines stock

Will there be enough flu and pneumonia vaccines to meet increased demand?

Pharmac has confirmed to Checkpoint it has fewer than 90,000 doses of pneumonia vaccine.

It said that was sufficient for high-risk New Zealanders who qualify for the publicly-funded vaccine.

Wilson told Checkpoint generally for vaccines Pharmac holds at least four months' worth of normal demand.

"If demand changes for things, that will reduce the length of time that would last for… and we've been rechecking volumes of demand of product for the Pneumovax and other Pneumococcal type vaccinations."

Wilson said Pharmac's pneumonia vaccine suppliers are responsive to finding more stock, but she cannot guarantee there will be extra stock to purchase.

"They take somewhere around six months to make… If demand is growing globally then the vaccine manufacturers will need to look at increasing their manufacturing.

"The flu vaccine for this year for New Zealand is going to be 1.8 million doses… That's 400,000 doses more than what was available last year."

Wilson said Pharmac was talking to suppliers to see if they can meet higher demand for the influenza vaccine in New Zealand this year, but that is "unknown at this point".

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