Gabe Robinson, 11, was over the moon when he found out the Government would fund his EpiPens. Photo / Alex Cairns
Gabe Robinson wouldn’t be alive today, if not for EpiPens.
Gabe, 11, is severely allergic to dairy, eggs, peanuts and sesame. Traces of any of these four common ingredients can lead to anaphylaxis, causing Gabe’s
tongue to swell, tightness in his chest, difficulty breathing and a sudden drop in blood pressure leading to collapse.
For Gabe, every allergic reaction is life-threatening. Only the adrenaline contained in Gabe’s EpiPen can slow the reaction in time for an ambulance to arrive.
But until last month, a single EpiPen could cost Gabe and his family up to $240.
On December 15, then-Health Minister Andrew Little announced Pharmac would fully fund Epipens, making them free for severe allergy sufferers from February 1.
At the time, Little said this would benefit about 12,000 New Zealanders.
When Gabe’s mum Delwyn Robinson heard the news at home in Mount Maunganui, she thought it was “amazing”.
“It took a load off. All of a sudden you’re not trying to find extra money,” Robinson said.
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“I think it’s also about recognising that this is a serious problem and families need this.”
Robinson said she and her husband Brian first experienced Gabe’s anaphylaxis when he was just under two years old while on a family camping trip to Cooks Beach.
“He had a fluffy and he went into full anaphylaxis. He had to be airlifted to Starship Hospital.”
Since then, Gabe has had at least one EpiPen with him wherever he goes.
“The recommendation is to always have two in case one doesn’t work,” Robinson said.
“We always have three EpiPens.”
The Robinsons have been campaigning for EpiPen funding for nine years.
The issue was pharmacies charged different prices for EpiPens and they all had different expiry dates, Robinson said.
“You could pay anywhere between $120 and $240 for the same EpiPen. Some would last for 15 months and some would last for three, depending on the pharmacy that was supplying them.”
Robinson said when she told Gabe about the EpiPen funding “he was stoked”.
“The last two times, he asked for his EpiPen himself. He knew what was going on.”
Robinson said she hoped sharing Gabe’s story and the news of the EpiPen funding decision would help educate the public about anaphylaxis.
“I want people to be aware that anaphylaxis is real. It isn’t a choice,” Robinson said.
“I think it would be good if everyone knew how to use an EpiPen. These things are keeping people alive. I think that’s kind of the biggest thing.”
Allergy New Zealand chief executive Mark Dixon said since the funding announcement, EpiPen supplier Viatris had recorded high demand.
“We understand they are fulfilling record orders from pharmacies throughout the country.”
However, Dixon said there was still work to be done to ensure allergy sufferers, prescribers and pharmacies were aware of the change.
“It is a constant challenge to reach the significant number of New Zealanders who do not have access to online services or have access to a smartphone.
“A lot of unaware parents would have renewed their family’s supply of EpiPens in the weeks before school started. The good news is, of course, that they will not have to self-fund those pens again.”
Dixon said a number of prescribers were not aware they needed to register eligible patients to allow them to be able to access funded EpiPens at their local pharmacy.
“This leads to confusion and frustration when the patient presents their prescription and the pharmacist asks them to pay for the Epipen.”
Dixon said it was also important to note that general-use EpiPens were still not funded.
“These are Epipens that are held for emergency use by work, recreational and learning environments. For example, a school or public facility must still fund the purchase of Epipens themselves.”
EpiPens are a single-use, disposable, spring-loaded injection containing 0.3 milligrams of adrenaline, which counteracts the effects of a severe allergic reaction and can be life-saving. Approximately 10,000 to 15,000 are sold per year at a cost of between $120 and $250 each.
What are the symptoms of a severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis?
Symptoms usually occur within five to 30 minutes of exposure to an allergen. However, reactions can occur up to two hours later.
- Difficulty with, or noisy breathing
- Swelling of the tongue
- Swelling or tightness in the throat
- A wheeze or persistent cough
- Difficulty talking and/or a hoarse voice
- Persistent dizziness, loss of consciousness and/or collapse
- Becoming pale and floppy (in young children)
Source: Allergy NZ