The purported shortage of paracetamol medications in the market has raised concerns that the public may be resorting to self-medication to alleviate the side effects of vaccinations and booster doses as well as symptoms of Covid-19 infections.
Experts view the over-the-counter purchase of paracetamol without consulting a doctor or pharmacist as a worrying trend as overdosing on the drug can expose users to poisoning.
Medical doctors and pharmacists interviewed by Bernama said the trend appeared to be getting “out of hand” currently probably due to the spike in new Covid-19 cases, the bulk of which comprises mild infections that cause symptoms such as fever and body ache which can be relieved by taking paracetamol.
Several pharmacists also said that many people were stocking up on paracetamol in preparation for their Covid-19 booster shot which can cause side effects such as fever, headache and joint pain.
Paracetamol is commonly used to relieve aches and pain and reduce fever. Panadol, which contains paracetamol, is among the most popular painkiller medication brands available in Malaysia.
Malaysian Pharmacists Society president Amrahi Buang said patients must have some knowledge of any medication, even if it is just paracetamol, that they are taking.
“There’s nothing wrong in buying medications for self-treatment but one must have some knowledge about it. In the case of paracetamol, for instance, one must know the proper dose and dosing frequency, as well as the drug’s strength, side effects and such things.
“But how many people know these things? Before buying, read the indications printed on the medication’s packaging first... this is why we encourage the public to buy (their medications) from pharmacies as the pharmacists (on duty there) can assess their symptoms and advise them on the dosage accordingly,” he told Bernama.
Amrahi said the need to take paracetamol before or after vaccination would depend on an individual’s state of health, while the dosage would depend on the person’s weight, age and other medications they are on as well as their overall health condition.
What’s more, he added, there are various types of paracetamol drugs in the market that serve different functions, some of which are not suitable for pregnant women or people with hypertension.
He said although paracetamol is, in general, safe for consumption, it cannot, however, be taken indiscriminately because if taken in excess or without consulting a specialist, it can result in adverse side effects, including liver damage.
Amrahi also voiced his concern over consumers turning to online vendors to purchase their favourite brand of paracetamol medication when the usual stores and pharmacies they buy it from run out of stock.
“We are concerned that some irresponsible people may take advantage of the situation and sell fake paracetamol tablets to consumers online which can endanger their health. It’s best to buy paracetamol from pharmacies as they have the necessary tools to test if the paracetamol medication is authentic or otherwise,” he added.
Explaining why paracetamol stocks are hard to come by currently, Amrahi said it stemmed from the attitude of consumers who seem to prefer to take a certain brand of paracetamol medication to alleviate their Covid-19 vaccination or booster shot side effects.
“Actually, various other brands of paracetamol medications are also available in the market... they are also safe and able to relieve the side effects of vaccination. All you have to do is share your symptoms with the pharmacist who will then recommend the correct medication,” he said.
Universiti Malaya public health expert and epidemiologist Prof Dr Noran Naqiah Hairi said there are alternative medications, other than paracetamol, to treat symptoms such as fever and body ache.
“Individuals receiving their vaccine or booster shot can seek the advice of the health staff on duty at the vaccination centre on the appropriate medicines to take, apart from paracetamol,” she said.
Pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Malaysia, which manufactures Panadol, said in a statement to Bernama that there has been an increase in the demand for Panadol since the implementation of the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme on Feb 24 last year.
GSK said the company is currently in the process of increasing the production of Panadol to meet market demand.
“There is currently limited supply in some stores, but we are allocating stock accordingly to minimise inconveniences for consumers as much as possible.
“We urge Malaysians to responsibly purchase for their immediate needs to ensure there is supply for everyone,’’ it added.
Pharmaniaga Bhd managing director Datuk Zulkarnain Md Eusope, meanwhile, said his company’s paracetamol product Actimol is not experiencing any shortage in the market.
“As of now, we have not experienced any disruption in our supply of Actimol,” he said.- Bernama