When important medicines are missing from the pharmacy, this is a source of excitement in a country like Germany. If, as is currently the case, medicines for children are missing, parents are not only excited but downright desperate, as paediatricians report. It is not entirely new that even simple medicines such as fever syrups are difficult to obtain in view of a wave of diseases with the resulting high demand. Now, however, the trend is putting pressure on politicians in Berlin. Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) wants to take countermeasures.
Delivery bottlenecks are currently occurring frequently in child care because the wave of infection is exceptionally high, especially with respiratory diseases. The temporary shortage of certain preparations, also outside of pediatrics, has been known for a long time, so that the Federal Ministry of Health is planning new regulations anyway. This process is now accelerated. Department head Lauterbach announced on Thursday in Berlin that he would present a draft law in the coming week “about overcoming supply bottlenecks”. He did not want to give details, among other things, it is about discount agreements and the delivery routes of the scarce medicines to the pharmacies. He expressly made it clear that in view of the tense situation, “short-term measures” had to be taken.
“Went too far with economization”
The Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices (BfArM) plays an important role in this context for Lauterbach. It is currently advising parents and doctors on the possibility of using substitute products instead of the missing medication. “In association with the BfArm and with the law that we will bring next week, we will overcome the supply bottlenecks,” assured the minister. He made it clear that some active ingredients for adults are also rare, such as anti-cancer drugs and antibiotics. A wrong pricing policy is responsible for the shortages. “We went too far with economization in this area, too,” says Lauterbach. “Here the price played the sole role, the availability of the medicines played too little a role. We want to repeal that.”
The BfArM has meanwhile denied that there has been a “supply break” for paracetamol and ibuprofen-containing children’s medicines – suppositories and juices: “Medicines are continuously being brought onto the market.” Products. “This cannot currently be fully compensated for.”
The demand has increased significantly
A large manufacturer had already canceled winter stocks in the summer, which prompted pharmacies to stock up heavily and reduce availability on the market. The authority observes a “regional unequal distribution and stockpiling of the available stocks”, which is why there is not only an increasing demand, but also a “distribution problem”. In order to prevent regional shortages as far as possible, no stocks should be built up beyond a weekly requirement. It is now said that the lack of paracetamol is mainly due to strikes in France.
Andreas Burkhardt, Germany head of the generics manufacturer Teva with its well-known brand Ratiopharm, explained the reasons for the shortage in an interview with the FAZ. The demand for fever juices depends on the cold season and was very low in 2021 due to the measures against the corona pandemic. “As a result, a particularly large number of children seem to have caught cold this year, and demand has increased significantly: We have already sold more than twice the amount that was in demand last year.”
One supplier dropped out of production
According to him, this was made more difficult by the fact that another important manufacturer of paracetamol-containing fever juices, which had a market share of around 30 percent, left because production was no longer able to cover its costs. It was the provider 1A Pharma, a subsidiary of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis. They are now trying to supply everyone with fever juices. But the production capacities could not be ramped up that quickly. “In addition, it takes an average of six to nine months from purchasing the raw materials to the finished drug,” explains Burkhardt.
The Pro Generika manufacturers’ association blames political regulations for the shortage. “The current bottlenecks are the result of years of pressure on prices and manufacturing costs for generics,” emphasizes the association. For years, the manufacturers of imitation drugs have shouldered an ever-increasing share of the supply – at a shrinking share of the costs: “For almost 80 percent of the supply, they only receive 7 percent of the amount that the statutory health insurance companies spend on drugs,” says the annoyed industry lobby group. The result is a decline in the number of manufacturers, “which can have dramatic consequences”. Because if a manufacturer fails, the few remaining ones are usually “sold out in no time”. They could not compensate for the lost production. “Incentives are now needed to encourage more companies to get involved. To do this, we have to put an end to the cost pressure on generics – especially for critical medicines,” demands Managing Director Bork Bretthauer.