COVID-19 Update: FDA Confirms First Drug Shortage, Other Supply Shortages Continue


The FDA announced the first drug shortage due to COVID-19, and pharmacies are having challenges keeping face masks and hand sanitizers stocked.

Coronavirus COVID-19

The FDA announced the first drug shortage due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), and pharmacies are having challenges keeping face masks and hand sanitizers stocked.

“A manufacturer has alerted us to a shortage of a human drug that was recently added to the drug shortages list….The shortage is due to an issue with manufacturing of an active pharmaceutical ingredient used in the drug,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, MD, said in a press release.1

However, Hahn did not name the drug that is in shortage.

“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. We will do everything possible to mitigate the shortage,” Hahn added.

The FDA has also identified about 20 drugs which solely source their active pharmaceutical ingredients or finished drug products from China. “We have been in contact with those firms to assess whether they face any drug shortage risks due to the outbreak. None of these firms have reported any shortage to date. Also, these drugs are considered non-critical drugs,” Hahn said.

Simultaneously, US Surgeon General Jerome Adams urged Americans to stop buying facemasks, as pharmacies are running out of masks and hand sanitizers.

"They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” Adams wrote in a tweet.2

He urged people to follow the CDC’s coronavirus prevention tips2 which state: “CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).”

In early February, 96% of community pharmacies said they were already experiencing a shortage of surgical masks, whereas 38% were running short on surgical masks, a NCPA survey found.3

Meanwhile, hand sanitizers are becoming increasingly hard to come by in drug store chains and other retailers such as Walmart. In a recent search, Walmart’s website showed that many hand sanitizers were out-of-stock, The New York Times reported.4

Similarly, on Amazon, a search for popular hand sanitizer brands like Purell showed many were unavailable. “In some cases, what was available was being sold by third-party sellers at high prices. On Friday morning, a pack of two 12-ounce bottles of Purell could be had from a third-party seller for $49.99,” The New York Times said.4


1. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Supply Chain Update [FDA statement]. FDA’s website.

2. Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Prevention & Treatment. CDC’s website.

3. Coronavirus Causing a Run on Masks, National Pharmacy Survey Shows [news release]. NCPA’s website.

4. Creswell J. ‘Where Do I Find Your Hand Sanitizer?’ Sorry, We Have None. The New York Times. Published February 29, 2020.


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