Coronavirus may affect medicines supply
Supplies of routine medicines in Australia may become dangerously scarce — or outright unavailable — as the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak takes hold, experts have warned.
The concerns have come after India’s recent decision to restrict pharmaceutical exports amid domestic shortfalls and fears of further pre-pandemic scarcity. A China-based pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturer has also reported a supply shortfall to the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), after its operations were impacted by the virus.
These export restrictions and manufacturing barriers — current and anticipated — are expected to have a significant impact on medicine supplies in western countries, many of which are heavily reliant on pharmaceutical imports from Asia. In Australia, an estimated 90% of medicines and around 80% of pharmaceutical ingredients are imported from China.
Of particular concern are the potential shortages of propofol and epinephrine, which are used to treat symptoms of COVID-19. Also of concern are supplies of antibiotics such as amoxicillin, penicillin and doxycycline — the core ingredients of which are sourced mainly from Asia.
As yet, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has not been notified of any current medicine shortages in Australia that are a direct result of COVID-19.
However, given the evolving situation, the TGA is having active discussions with Australian medicine sponsors, wholesalers and pharmacists to determine any potential future impact to medicine supply.
The TGA is also part of an active international network of regulators who regularly assess medicine shortages and who are presently focusing on the impact of COVID-19.
A spokesperson for the TGA said, “In Australia, medicines sponsors are legally required to report anticipated shortages of prescription medicines and some over-the-counter medicines.
“If anticipated medicine shortages are identified, they will be published on the TGA website and we will work closely with sponsors to manage supply and source alternatives where necessary.
“We also liaise with clinical and consumer groups when critical shortages are identified to ensure these groups are well-informed of the situation.”
The TGA’s mandatory reporting scheme applies to national shortages. However, stockpiling of medicines may unintentionally create a shortage at the local level.
Consumers who are concerned about the impact of the coronavirus on the supply of their medicines are being encouraged to discuss the ongoing management of their condition with their healthcare professional.
Meanwhile, prescribing doctors are being advised to exercise caution in the months that follow, only writing scripts for antibiotics and other medications that are absolutely necessary, not simply precautionary.
In relation to its recently reported manufacturing shortage, the FDA said in a public notice, “It is important to note that there are other alternatives that can be used by patients. We are working with the manufacturer as well as other manufacturers to mitigate the shortage.”
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