EU facing major drug shortages as winter bug season causes chaos

Hay fever: Drug shortage ‘no reason to panic’ says expert

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The EU is reportedly running low on medicines like antibiotics and children’s painkillers amid a brutal winter bug season unleashing havoc on the bloc. A number of EU nations have been reporting significant issues to source certain curial drugs since late 2022. Now, a large bulk suffering from shortages. In a survey of groups representing pharmacies in 29 European countries, including not just EU members but also Turkey, Kosovo, Norway and North Macedonia, almost 25 percent of countries reported that over 600 drugs were in short supply.

And 20 percent reported there were full-on shortages of at least 200-300 drugs. Meanwhile, three-quarters of the nations said shortages were worse this winter than this time last year. Groups across four countries said shortages were linked to deaths.

Ilaria Passarani, Secretary General of the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (PGEU) representing community pharmacists, said: “The situation has been very bad over the years in all countries, and affecting all types of medicines. For the past seven, eight years, we have seen the problem increase.”

Antibiotics, particularly amoxicillin (which is used to treat respiratory infections), are in short supply. This is also the case in the UK, where doctors warned that the medicine used to treat the Strep A bacterial infection soared among rising cases of the illness in schools. The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies described the situation as “very worrying”.

Other classes of drugs that are running low in Europe include cough syrup, children’s paracetamol, and blood pressure medicine. It comes amid segueing cases of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), as well as the outbreak of Strep A.

According to experts, high-level disease activity could be linked to weaker immune systems caused by Covid lockdowns.

Dr Stephen Griffin, an Associate Professor at the Leeds Institute of Medical Research, told “The levels of influenza are due to an increased number of susceptible children due to the past years where pandemic protections have literally eliminated influenza from our shores.

“With more infections comes more serious disease, as well as possible predisposition to group A streptococcus (GAS), for example.”

But winter bugs are not the only factor leaving a heap of vital drugs in tight supply. It is also partially due to drug manufacturing, with the different stages of production split up into various sites around the world.

Manufacturers are also able to decide whether they stop producing a product when it becomes unprofitable, enough, leaving buyers very few alternatives. Meanwhile, Inflation and the energy crisis have been impacting pharmaceutical companies’ production too, putting further strain on supply.

For instance, Centrient Pharmaceuticals, a Dutch producer of active pharmaceutical ingredients, said output at its production plant slumped by a quarter in 2022 compared with the year before as a result of high energy costs.

EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said last month that it will bring forward a proposal to revise the pharmaceuticals legislation in March in a bid to address the antibiotics shortage.

She said during a session at the European Parliament: “Our objective is and remains to secure access to medicines for all patients in need and to avoid any market disruption of medicines in the EU.”

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Some countries have started limiting or banning the exports of certain drugs to protect domestic supplies, including Greece, Romania and Belgium.

The bloc’s drugs regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), has recommended a number of measures to ease pressures, causing the relaxing of to allow pharmacies to dispense pills or medicine doses individually.

However, the EMA told the Commission to declare the Amoxycillin shortage a “major event”, which would have triggered some degree of EU-wide action in an attempt to resolve the issue.

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