Buying medicines from Australian pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic

Information for pharmacists and consumers about medicines and COVID-19 | Updated regularly as the situation changes.

Buying medicines from Australian pharmacies during the COVID-19 pandemic

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

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Pharmacies remain open as essential services

On 23 March, State and Federal governments announced that pharmacies will remain open, as essential services, although other non-essential businesses must close to slow the spread of the virus.

Customers must remain 1.5 metres away from other people, and there should be no more than 1 person per 4 square metres in any shop.

Find out more at the Australian Government website


Emerging evidence on hydroxychloroquine and COVID-19

In response to international interest in the use of hydroxychloroquine for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, we look at emerging evidence, current guidelines and whether hydroxychloroquine is actually a ‘miracle drug’ that will save lives during this pandemic. This article will be regularly updated.

Read the whole 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.


Continued dispensing arrangements extended to 31 March 2021

Temporary arrangements for obtaining PBS/RPBS medicines without a prescription, initially started during the bushfire emergency, have been extended to 31 March 2021 (extension announced on 25 September 2020).

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 is a one-off and cannot be repeated within a 12-month period.

This means people who obtained medicines through the continued dispensing arrangement during the bush fire crisis will not be able to do so again at this time.

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

Restrictions for hydroxychloroquine and salbutamol now in place

From 24 March 2020, federal legislation is in place to limit the availability of two medicines that have seen increased demand in recent weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation has been implemented so that these medicines continue to be available for Australians who need them for ongoing medical conditions.

Hydroxychloroquine is the active ingredient in medicines used for the prevention and treatment of certain types of malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions. Medicines containing hydroxychloroquine are in Schedule 4, meaning they are available only with a prescription.

From 24 March 2020, treatment with hydroxychloroquine will need to be authorised first by certain specialists before ongoing prescribing by a general practitioner can occur.

Currently, hydroxychloroquine is being tested as a potential treatment for people infected with the SARS-COV-2 virus. No recommendations have yet been made regarding dose, frequency or duration. Use of this medicine for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 outside of clinical trial research is off-label.

Salbutamol, also known by brand names such as Ventolin, Asmol and Airomir, is the active ingredient in medicines used to treat symptoms of asthma and other airway diseases. Medicines containing salbutamol are in Schedule 3 (also known as Pharmacy Only Medicine), meaning the medicine is available from a pharmacy without prescription, but requires a discussion with a health professional first.

From 24 March 2020, supply of this medicine is limited to 1 primary pack per person for people with evidence of a medically diagnosed lung condition or people who have previously been supplied this medicine from the same pharmacist.

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 on the new changes go to the Therapeutic Goods Administration website


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.