Nations Face Antibiotic Shortages with A Rise in Demand Caused by Surging Tripledemic


AFP    21 December 2022

With an increase in the number of cases of illness among children, Europe and North America are experiencing a shortage of key antibiotics, such as amoxicillin, and other medications. Similarly, hospitals in many countries have come under pressure from a rising number of illnesses, including the "tripledemic" of COVID-19, influenza, and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection. Yet, ramping up the production of antibiotics has proved to be a difficult task, especially in the case of cheap generic medicines that offer a minimal profit margin.


Amoxicillin is a member of the penicillin antibiotic family and is used to treat a range of bacterial illnesses, including chest and ear infections. Last month, the medicines regulator ANSM in France stated that there is a "strong supply tension" for the version of amoxicillin administered to children. The regulators added that the dire situation could last until March 2023. Spain and Germany were among several other countries that sounded the alarm about shortages of a range of drugs, including amoxicillin and other antibiotics. Meanwhile, countries including Canada and Australia have put amoxicillin on their list of drugs for which pharmacists are authorized to find substitute treatments.


Due to an increase in COVID infection, mandatory masks and social distancing kept illnesses under control; however, a relaxation in protocol and the arrival of winter brought an influenza season. The producers of the drug’s active ingredients are claiming to be struggling with shortages. Sandoz, the generic drug division of Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, claimed that the stock shortages faced by their competitors have driven up their sales but also added to difficulties in product supply.


Antibiotics have long fallen in the public domain, as a result, the generic version can be sold at a lesser price. Therefore, drug makers have a little monetary incentive to produce such antibiotics. Dr. Thomas Borel, the scientific director at LEEM, which represents French drug firms, stated that there had been insufficient investment from the industry despite the growing demand for this type of medicine. He suggested that the economic model makes it difficult for drug makers "to recover their costs" when it comes to antibiotics. Hence, he suggested that the pharmaceutical industry should be considered a strategic sector in which public authorities must be more vigilant than they have been in recent years.

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