Pharmacists Concerned About Shortages in Wake of Coronavirus

February 25, 2020
Christine Blank

Separately, a pharmacy association executive urges Americans to receive the flu vaccine.

Although drug shortages due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak haven’t occurred yet, the FDA and pharmacists are closely watching for potential shortages. Separately, pharmacists should urge Americans to get flu vaccinations and take a cautious approach with coronavirus, a pharmacy association executive told Drug Topics®.

“While our primary concern is the health and safety of those affected by the virus, ASHP is concerned with the vulnerability of the pharmaceutical supply chain to threats like the coronavirus outbreak,” Michael Ganio, PharmD, BCPS, director of pharmacy practice and quality at ASHP, told Drug Topics®.

An estimated 80% of active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) used in the US market comes from foreign sources. In addition, the FDA has recalled inspectors from China due to the outbreak, which could possibly lead to delays in manufacturing, Ganio noted.

The FDA is “keenly aware that the outbreak will likely impact the medical product supply chain, including potential disruptions to supply or shortages of critical medical products in the US,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, MD, in a statement.1 “We are not waiting for drug and device manufacturers to report shortages to us-we are proactively reaching out to manufacturers as part of our vigilant and forward-leaning approach to identifying potential disruptions or shortages.”

Although the agency has not received any reports of drug shortages yet, it has received reports of increased ordering of “some essential medical devices through distributors, such as personal protective equipment (PPE) (eg respirators and surgical gowns, gloves, and masks),” FDA said.

However, ASHP has not found that pharmacy departments are unable to acquire supplies of PPE such as surgical masks, Ganio said. “If the situation persists, there may be a global allocation of PPE medical supplies to prevent hoarding,” he added.

ASHP created a new coronavirus resource page for pharmacists, which contains health care guidance and a downloadable sample list of potential pharmacy public health roles at the local or state levels. 

Meanwhile, pharmacists with patients who are concerned about COVID-19 should urge proper hand washing and flu vaccinations, Mitchel Rothholz, chief strategy officer at APhA, told Drug Topics®.

“There is a greater incidence of influenza than coronavirus and we see more problems and more deaths from influenza,” Rothholz said.

Meanwhile, pharmacists should be alert, and watch for increased purchases of OTC cold and flu products. “If they see an upsurge, they should reach out to the Public Health Department and see if there is a correlation [due to coronavirus].” Rothholz said.

“We are in the peak of flu season, so I don’t think everyone should run scared because it could be flu,” Rothholz added. “The best approach is practicality and caution.”

References:

1. FDA’s Actions in Response to 2019 Novel Coronavirus Home and Abroad [news release]. FDA’s website. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fdas-actions-response-2019-novel-coronavirus-home-and-abroad.