Many consumers in germany have stocked up on medicines out of concern about the coronavirus. In march, demand for over-the-counter medicines rose sharply, giving pharmaceutical companies an exceptional boost.
This was reported by several drug manufacturers in response to a dpa inquiry. The rush in pharmacies is pushing logistics in the sector to its limits in some cases and fuelling the debate about supply shortages of medicines.
"In the last few weeks, we have had to cope with order volumes across our entire portfolio, some of which have tripled," explained ratiopharm’s parent company teva in ulm, for example.
Demand for over-the-counter medicines was much higher than usual in march, especially for medicines containing paracetamol and vitamin preparations. In some cases, there were delays in deliveries. Teva has not only increased capacity in production, but logistics is also working in three shifts instead of two.
Bayer also reports higher demand for medicines, especially food supplements and products to treat colds and allergies. The dax company says it is "very well able" to cope with the rush, but asks consumers to limit their purchases to normal quantities.
Even if self-therapies with painkillers against corona are controversial and there were contradictory advice: the onslaught of consumers in pharmacies has continued for weeks.
"The demand for medicines and the uncertainty of the people is high," reported the trade association ABDA recently. In the case of cold and painkillers, there are many preparations from different manufacturers and therefore an alternative in case of doubt. There is no reason to hoard medicines.
Hessian drugmaker stada is also responding to the strong demand: sales of cold remedies, including grippostad, were 50 percent higher in march, and sales of immune preparations were three times higher than in normal months. Industry giant glaxosmithkline, known for its voltaren pain reliever, also reported a rush on nasal sprays, nose drops and sore throat remedies in the past four weeks.
According to the british supplier, sales of some drugs have increased by between 30 and 40 percent. And french manufacturer sanofi said consumers in germany had stocked up on over-the-counter medicines just before the outbreak of the pandemic.
The rush is putting the pharmaceutical industry under pressure. "In the case of extremely high individual orders, we have intervened in a controlling manner in order to ensure flat-covering supply over time," teva, for example, announced. And stada explained that they have increased the stock and invested more than 50 million euros worldwide for additional active ingredients and the manufacture of finished products.
Nevertheless, the industry cannot absorb everything: the supply bottlenecks for drugs have worsened with the corona crisis, according to the federal institute for drugs and medical products (bfarm).
The agency currently has almost 380 scarce resources – in november the figure was 290. However, there are about 103.000 approved drugs in germany. Because of hamster purchases due to the pandemic, the bfarm has asked pharmaceutical companies as well as wholesalers not to supply medicines beyond normal requirements, for example to pharmacies. This should prevent imbalances in the market.
With the corona crisis, criticism of pharmaceutical supply shortages has also become louder. Although this was also the case in previous years, problems are now coming to light more clearly. Many active ingredients for medicines are produced in china and india for cost reasons – for example, for antibiotics and simple imitation drugs.
In the far east, production is concentrated in a few companies. If production comes to a temporary standstill or there are drug recalls due to contamination, there are problems in the supply chain. The corona crisis is also putting pressure on supply chains: the prices of active ingredients and logistics costs have "risen significantly worldwide," according to the german association of pharmaceutical manufacturers (BAH).
In times of pandemics, calls for a stronger production of active ingredients in europe are growing louder. But then there would be higher costs in the german healthcare system, the german chemical industry association (VCI) pointed out. Because production in germany cannot be as cheap as in china. However, it is still unclear who is to bear the higher costs.