Buying medicines from Australian pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic

Information for pharmacists and consumers about medicines and COVID-19.

Buying medicines from Australian pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic

Please note: Information, evidence and advice relating to COVID-19 is constantly changing. The information in this article was correct at the time of writing.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, your pharmacy is operating under some different regulations and conditions. Find out more here.

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Continued dispensing arrangements extended to 31 December 2021

Temporary arrangements for obtaining PBS/RPBS medicines without a prescription have been extended to 31 December 2021 (announced 18 March 2021). 

Most but not all PBS/RPBS medicines are included in this temporary arrangement, including medicines for asthma and other lung conditions, diabetes, heart disease and mental health.

Emergency dispensing only

The arrangements are for emergency situations only, where other ways of obtaining a prescription are not available. This means a person is unable to make any type of appointment with a prescriber (ie, face-to-face, telephone or video).

In addition, there are other criteria that must be met before a pharmacist can agree to providing the medicine.

They can then dispense an amount equal to one standard prescription of a medicine (typically this is enough for one month). The usual PBS/RPBS co-payment will apply for the medicine being dispensed in this way.

Once-only supply

The supply of a medicine in this way cannot be repeated within a 12-month period.

Find out more

Read the announcement on the Australian Government PBS website

More information for health professionals about the continued dispensing arrangements:


Limits in place for certain pharmacy medicines

During the COVID-19 pandemic some prescription and over-the-counter medicines became difficult to buy because of increased demand (including panic buying) or interruptions to the supply.

To help make sure all Australians who need specific medicines can access them, some rules have been introduced. These rules change how pharmacists fill scripts for some prescription medicines, and also limit how much a person can buy of some over-the counter medicines.

For example salbutamol, is the active ingredient in medicines used to treat symptoms of asthma and other airway diseases. Medicines containing salbutamol (such as Ventolin, Asmol and Airomir) are Schedule 3 (S3) or Pharmacist Only Medicines. These medicines are available from a pharmacy without prescription, but the person needing the medicine must speak with a health professional before they can buy it.

From 1 October 2020, supply of salbutamol medicines became limited to 1 primary pack per person being treated for a medically diagnosed lung condition (like asthma or COPD) or who as previously been supplied this medicine from a pharmacy.

People legally authorised to use or supply this medicine in the practice of their profession will still be able to access this medicine, and it will also still be available as a first aid medicine for institutions including schools, childcare services and workplaces.

For more information about medicine shortages, visit the Therapeutic Goods Administration's medicine shortage reports database.

Learn more about how the Therapeutic Goods Administration are working to keep medicines in supply for Australians who need them.


Evidence on hydroxychloroquine and COVID-19

During 2020 the use of hydroxychloroquine for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 was of significant local and international interest. An article examining the evolving evidence for this medicine was prepared by NPS MedicineWise and updated as new data emerged. The last update was in August 2020.  In Australia, hydroxychloroquine is not recommended as a treatment for COVID-19. 

Read the article

Australian Prescriber has addressed the ethical dimensions of prescribing this medicine in an editorial.

Principles of ethical prescribing for self and others: Hydroxychloroquine in the COVID-19 pandemic.


Asking questions about your medicines

Speak to your GP or pharmacist if you have questions about your medicines and the amount you need. You can also call the NPS Medicines Line on 1300 633 424 (1300 MEDICINE) if you have questions about prescription, over-the-counter and complementary medicines.

Find out more about using medicines during the COVID-19 pandemic

As evidence comes to hand, we will post answers to frequently asked questions here.