Feb 5, 2021 - Health

How COVID is disrupting the drug supply chain

Illustration of gloved hand holding white pill from a black pill pattern
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

A team of researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health has some warnings about the pandemic causing drug shortages — and some ideas on what to do about it.

Driving the news: COVID is increasing the demand for drugs that are needed to treat patients with the virus — like sedatives and vasopressors, which help patients with low blood pressure, per the report.

  • It's also shutting down the production of important medications, since China produces active pharmaceutical ingredients and it had to close down some of its factories because of the pandemic.
  • And travel bans have created delays that have led to shortages of drugs like propofol, an anesthetic.

The report recommends several steps to address the problems, many of which involve expanding the authority of the FDA:

  • Adding drugs to its shortage list, which would allow it to use strategies to increase manufacturing.
  • Creating quality metrics for manufacturing. (Congress would have to authorize it, since not everyone agrees that the agency has the power to do this.)
  • Creating an FDA database of approved manufacturers of active pharmaceutical ingredients.
  • Requiring manufacturers to prove they have a stockpile of active pharmaceutical ingredients, and approving new drugs or manufacturing changes more quickly (both of which would have to be authorized by Congress).

The catch: Most of these recommendations rely pretty heavily on giving the FDA more regulatory power.

  • That might not be a slam dunk with Republican lawmakers for anything Congress has to approve — although that might matter less now that Democrats are in control. 
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