World news wrapup: 10 June 2021

Amazon offers discount six-month scripts; pharmacist who spoiled vaccines sentenced; huge shortfall in pharmacists in UK

US: Amazon has announced an offer of a six-month supply of 13 commonly used medicines for only $6 (AUD$7.75), reports Bloomberg.

The offer includes generics of medicines used to treat diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Bloomberg’s Spencer Soper notes that the push is aimed at people who are uninsured and those who wish to pay cash for their medicines because of high co-pay costs.

Customers will be able to buy in bulk at a discount and receive two annual deliveries.

“We want to make filling a prescription just as easy as shopping on Amazon,” said Amazon Pharmacy Vice President TJ Parker.


Grafton, Wisconsin: Steven R. Brandenburg, the hospital pharmacist who attempted to spoil hundreds of COVID vaccine doses, has been sentenced to three years in prison.

In February, Mr Brandenburg pleaded guilty to two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products with reckless disregard for the risk that another person would be placed in danger of death or bodily injury.

According to court documents, he purposefully removed a box of COVID-19 vaccine vials manufactured by Moderna — which must be stored at specific cold temperatures to remain viable — from a hospital refrigeration unit during two successive overnight shifts in late December 2020.

In his plea agreement, Mr Brandenburg said he was sceptical of vaccines in general, and the Moderna vaccine specifically – beliefs he had spoken about to co-workers.

According to previous media reports which cited an FBI search warrant application for the hospital pharmacist, these beliefs included denial that COVID-19 is real, and that the vaccine was harmful and contained a microchip with the ability to turn on and off people’s fertility.

He also reportedly believed that the earth is flat and that the sky is a shield installed by the Government to prevent people from seeing God.

Mr Brandenburg acknowledged that after leaving the vaccines out for several hours each night, he returned the vaccines to the refrigerator to be used in the hospital’s vaccine clinic the following day.

Before his tampering with the vaccines was discovered, 57 people were given doses of vaccine from these vials.

“The purposeful attempt to spoil vaccine doses during a national public health emergency is a serious crime,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.

“The Department of Justice will continue working with its law enforcement partners to safeguard these life-saving vaccines.”

In addition to the term of imprisonment, the U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig ordered Brandenburg to serve three years of supervised release and to pay approximately $83,800 (AUD$108,325) in restitution to the hospital.


England, UK: The Community Pharmacy Workforce Development Group has revealed a significant shortage of pharmacists across England – and key reasons why that shortage exists.

The working group, which includes representatives from several pharmacy bodies, conducted a survey in July 2020 incorporating data from about 4,500 pharmacies.

It found a full-time equivalent pharmacist shortage of 9% across England, reports Chemist+Druggist.

This was particularly bad in the south-east (15%) and south-west (18%). Vacancies for pharmacists were remaining open for an average of 26 weeks.

Survey respondents said that, “concerns about pay, excessive workload and pressure, inflexible working hours, and a lack of opportunities for career progression” were the main reasons given by colleagues who left the sector.

The Group is also worried that community pharmacists are leaving the sector for different pharmacy sectors.


Bowie, Maryland: A pharmacist has been accused of running a “pill mill” and dispensing opioids on fraudulent scripts.

Aloysius Ikuni Okei, the owner and operator of the Family Choice Pharmacy in New Carrollton, allegedly filled fake scripts for alprazolam as well as oxycodone since October 2013, say authorities.

They allege that he would take up to $450 (AUD$582) from patients for filling fraudulent scripts, though he would also submit claims for payment to Medicaid, which would cover their cost, on the same scripts.

Mr Okei is facing 239 counts of distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, as well as Medicaid fraud, and theft.

Another man, Reggie Eugene Hall of Upper Marlboro, was charged separately with 50 counts of passing false prescriptions for controlled dangerous substances with the intent to distribute.

In a statement Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said that, “Abuse of prescription drugs is an epidemic across the country”.

“Pharmacists, of all people, must be keenly aware of the dangers of addiction and death arising from drug abuse,” said Attorney General Frosh.

“We have charged Okei with distributing controlled, dangerous prescription drugs and with defrauding the State of thousands of Medicaid dollars.”

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