Coronavirus Outbreak May Cause U.S. Drug Shortages

There are new fears that the novel coronavirus outbreak could cause shortages of lifesaving medications in the United States. So far, the outbreak has threatened production of about 150 prescription drugs, including some brand drugs without an alternative on the market. There is also the issue of drugs or related products previously earmarked for export being used locally instead.

Senator Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said in a statement, “The coronavirus outbreak in China has highlighted severe and longstanding weaknesses in our medical supply chain. Our health officials need to know the extent of our reliance on Chinese production so they can take all necessary action to protect Americans.” Roughly 90 percent of generic drugs made in the U.S. require components from China. Generic antibiotics and blood pressure medications could be among those first affected.

The outbreak of the coronavirus has threatened China-based supply chains for numerous businesses. As China’s government continues to work to contain the epidemic, many factories have been closed to prevent the spread of the virus amongst employees and their families. As more factories in China reopen, potential risks to supply chains also should decline.

To date, the manufacturing disruptions haven’t led to reported shortages in the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently tracking about 20 drugs that are manufactured primarily in China. For many of them, stockpiles that would last for weeks have already been warehoused. The FDA says it’s closely monitoring the situation.

Sen. Hawley plans to introduce legislation, entitled “The Medical Supply Chain Security Act,” that is aimed at securing America’s medical supply chain. If the bill became law, manufacturers would have to disclose “all locations of production, the sourcing of all component parts, the sourcing of any active pharmaceutical ingredients, and the use of any scarce raw materials,” in an annual report to the FDA. The manufacturers would also be subject to FDA requests for any supply chain information that the agency deems necessary.