29 Sep 2014

Call for Pharmac to fund allergy pens

6:50 pm on 29 September 2014

Pharmac is for the first time widely consulting with drug companies about funding an adrenelin auto injector, such as the EpiPen, to treat allergies.

Cat and woman in bed

Photo: PHOTO NZ

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of allergic disease in the world, with an estimated 20 to 40 percent of the population affected.

Currently there are several different adrenelin jabs available in New Zealand but they are expensive, are not government funded and have to be replaced each year.

Allergy New Zealand head Mark Dixon said the charity drew attention to deficiencies in allergy care six years ago but little had changed.

It had repeatedly applied to the country's drug-buying agency, Pharmac, to try to get funding for auto injectors, which can cost more than $200 but last for only a year.

"It's a very expensive precaution to be taking but one that as a parent you can't afford not to," he said.

"We've got another submission in front of Pharmac at the moment and as always we've got our fingers crossed."

Jody Hopkinson is a Tauranga mother of twin girls, one of whom has a severe a reaction to animal hair.

She said she was not aware of the allergy until her daughter was two-and-a-half, when it nearly killed her.

"She was cuddling a cat. I'd gone to the gym and left her at a friend's house and I got back 50 minutes later and she was wheezing," she said.

"I got her in the car and she went to sleep but what had happened (was) she'd passed out and I rung the ambulance and she was almost dead.

"Then they gave her some adrenaline and then we got to the hospital about a 50-minute ride away and they gave her another shot."

Ms Hopkinson said she could not afford the injector outright and was lucky her GP allowed her to pay if off in installments. However, she believed they should be subsidised.

"She could have died if she'd patted a cat or a dog. Now you can tell her not to touch a cat and a dog and she's six and a bit and she pretty much does as she's told. But it was in that period where she could take off and pat any cat that jumped in the garden."

Pharmac director of operations Sarah Fitt said it did fund adrenaline vials, which cost about $1. However, they could be difficult to administer in stressful situations and did not suit everyone.

Ms Fitt said it expected to start consulting with drug companies soon .

"We operate within a fixed budget and obviously we have look at all the applications we get and they go on a priority list as to what's the best value for money for the New Zealand taxpayer and unfortunately this one hasn't made the top of the list," she said.

"We are hoping to go out with some propositions to the sector in the next few weeks."

Pharmac would discuss with suppliers why there was such a price difference between the cost of the vials and the ready-to-use form, she said.