I’ve heard COVID is leading to medicine shortages. What can I do if my medicine is out of stock?



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Nial Wheate, University of Sydney and Elise Schubert, University of Sydney

You’ve just come from your monthly GP appointment with a new script for your ongoing medical condition. But your local pharmacy is out of stock of your usual medicine. Your condition is serious, and without it, your health is likely to suffer. What can you do?

While medicine shortages happen from time to time, researchers and the media report COVID-19 is causing more shortages than normal for many life-saving medicines. In Australia, media reports indicate this includes some medications used to treat hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, or allergies.

Unfortunately, you’ll only likely find out if this applies to you when you reach the pharmacy. If that happens, there are a few ways you may be able to obtain your prescription.

But if the stock shortage will last for an extended period of time, and you cannot find a supply, your doctor may need to consider prescribing a different medication.

Why are there shortages?

Unfortunately, medicine shortages are an all too common problem of the modern health-care system. When our medicines come from a global supply chain — where raw ingredients are made in one country, processed into medicines in another, then freighted by sea or air to Australia — a single break in the supply chain can result in medicines going out of stock.

So there have been calls for Australia to set up its own medicines manufacturing base. But even if we do, that doesn’t help now during COVID.

Medicines shortages is a growing issue globally. That’s because of increasing demand, higher quality standards and fewer manufacturing sites.

Shortages have also been exacerbated in 2020 due to COVID-19. When workers are locked out of the factory because of a local outbreak, medicines don’t get made. And when we restrict the number of flights into Australia, that prevents medicines from arriving.




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When a manufacturer knows there is likely to be a medicine shortage, for any reason, they are required to inform the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) so pharmacies can make other arrangements, such as stocking up on alternatives or sourcing supply from other companies.

When the medicine shortage is considered to have a critical patient impact, or if it is in the interest of the public to know about the shortage, then the information is added to the TGA’s shortages website, which the public can search.

But this information is only useful at the government and wholesaler level; local GPs and community pharmacists don’t have the time to check the site every day.

Dealing with shortages efficiently is important because their impacts are wide ranging. Shortages result in higher costs to patients when they have to buy branded rather than generic formulations; more drug errors due to the different strengths and brands dispensed; more side-effects and higher death rates because of changes to less appropriate medicines; and more complaints from patients.

Pharmacist taking medicine off shelf
There’s not always enough medicine to go round. And shortages can affect a patient’s health.
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What if your local pharmacy is out of stock?

It is best to speak to your pharmacist about your options when your medication is out of stock. There may be other brands still available and appropriate to swap. Alternatively, your pharmacist could dispense a different strength of the same medication. Regulations brought in during the pandemic have allowed pharmacists to do this to help with medicine supply.

If there are no appropriate substitutes, in rare instances a local compounding pharmacy can manufacture certain products in store.




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If none of your local pharmacies stock your medicine, your next option is for an Australian online pharmacy to fill your script. It may be able to ship your medicine from another city or state.

It is not legal or safe for you personally to order prescription medications from online overseas suppliers. This is because they may not have been manufactured to Australian standards, and may be unsafe. But your pharmacist may do so on your behalf, under a special provision called section 19A.

If all else fails, you may need to contact your doctor about changing to a different medication. There are often many alternatives in the same drug class that work in the same, or very similar, way.




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Finally, and especially during COVID-19, for a large number of medicines pharmacists are only allowed to provide a maximum of one month’s supply to each patient.

So if your medicine is actually in stock and you want extra, just in case, then by law they may not be able to dispense it to you. This is to prevent panic buying and to ensure the wider community has steady access to medicine; that is, to prevent further shortages.




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The Conversation


Nial Wheate, Associate Professor of the Sydney Pharmacy School, University of Sydney and Elise Schubert, Pharmacist and PhD Candidate, University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Don’t panic (again): here’s why Melbourne’s supermarket shortages will quickly pass


Flavio Romero Macau, Edith Cowan University

You’re nervous, I get it.

Panic buying is back, not as strong as in March and more localised in Melbourne. Once again shop shelves have been emptied of pasta, toilet paper and other household items.

When will things get back to normal? Soon, more than likely in a matter of days, rather than weeks.

What is different now

Last time most of Australia was involved. Taken by surprise, supermarkets struggled with shoppers across the nation going into “hoard mode” simultaneously.

Normally supermarket supply chains run like well-oiled machines with highly predictable demand. Products move slowly and continuously from factories to distribution centres to stores. Supply chains are “skinny”, with stores ensuring they have just enough stock to meet that demand, particularly for low-margin products like toilet paper that take up a lot of shelf space.

A spike in demand can thus quickly empty shelves. It can prompt other shoppers to also start stockpiling, due to fear of missing out, making the problem worse.




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Responding to this situation in March took weeks, as supermarkets adjusted their orders and manufacturers ramped up production to supply more products. The supermarket chains used every trick in the book to balance supply and demand – including imposing limits on the quantity of products shoppers could buy at any one time.

What is happening

This time suppliers are more prepared. Their lean supply chains have built some fat. Inventory has not been at a minimum. Limits on the amount customers can buy have been quickly reintroduced.

So why are shelves empty at all if this time businesses are more responsive?

Well, one thing has not changed: there’s still a lag in supply chains responding to any sudden change in demand.

With toilet paper, for example, orders are generally fulfilled in about ten days. Last time it took about three weeks for more paper to make to it shops.

But, given the information of a spike in demand in Victoria made its way from shops and distributors to manufacturers almost instantly, things should happen faster this time.




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Retailers have already moved to answer the call by rerouting deliveries to increase supply where it is needed the most. The only thing stopping supply returning to normal is the speed of transportation and restocking.

Also, the spike in demand is heavily localised in Melbourne. While there have been reports of panic buying and stockpiling in other states, it’s nowhere near the level of a few months ago.

So shortages in Victoria will not be as prolonged as last time. Redirecting inventories will be a lot simpler.

Think of it this way. Panic buying during March was like a big detour in the supply-chain highway given the whole country was involved. Now it is more like a car with a flat tyre reducing traffic speed locally. It’s not less dramatic for the people affected, but much simpler from a supply-chain perspective.




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The new normal

So don’t panic. There’s less reason to join in the panic buying (or stockpiling, if you think of it as a rational response to lockdown) this time. We’re likely to experience these disruptions so long as COVID-19 outbreaks continue. The “new normal” is like a faulty switch. Regions will be on and off the spot until the pandemic is over.

But as long as the entire nation does not move backwards all at the same time, supply chains from one state will quickly support the one experiencing difficulties.

There’s really no reason for you to add to the problem.The Conversation

Flavio Romero Macau, Senior Lecturer in Supply Chain Management and Global Logistics, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

High-tech shortages loom as coronavirus shutdowns hit manufacturers


John L Hopkins, Swinburne University of Technology

There are now more than 45,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus dubbed COVID-19 by the World Health Organization, and the disease has caused at least 1,115 deaths. The impact of the virus is now reaching way beyond public health: China is at the heart of global manufacturing, and as supply chains suffer, panic is beginning to set in.

In many provinces across China the government has urged hundreds of millions of workers to stay home to help reduce the spread of the virus. As a result, many factories have stayed closed since the Lunar New Year holiday in late January, halting the production of products and parts destined for countries around the world, including Australia.

Apple is one of the most high-profile companies affected, with its manufacturing partner Foxconn hitting a lengthy production delay, but they are far from alone.

Global supply chains, global problems

The sectors hit hardest appear to be high-tech electronics, pharmaceuticals and the automotive industry.

Globalised supply chains and just-in-time manufacturing mean many seemingly unrelated products are vulnerable to pauses in the flow of goods from China.

It only takes one small missing part to bring entire supply chains to a standstill. If a tyre manufacturer in the United States doesn’t receive valves from a supplier in China, a car plant in Germany won’t receive any tyres, and therefore can’t ship finished cars to its customers.

Something similar happened to automotive giant Hyundai, which had to suspend all operations at its manufacturing plant in South Korea due to a lack of parts from China.




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Even tech companies such as Samsung, Google and Sony, which have moved their factories out of China in recent years, are being affected. They still rely on China for many components such as sensors or smartphone screens.

It is not just large businesses that will feel these effects. Many small businesses around the world also source products and parts from China.

The supply of these is now uncertain, with no sign yet as to when normal service may resume. For products and parts that are still being manufactured in China, new enhanced screening measures at all Chinese border crossings are likely to cause further delays.

How will Australia be affected?

The effects of the coronavirus are also being felt in Australia. China is our largest trading partner for both imports and exports. According to the United Nations Comtrade database, Australian imports from China were valued at A$85.9 billion in 2018. The biggest product categories were electronics and electrical equipment, making up A$19.8 billion, and machinery, which accounts for another A$15.7 billion.

Moreover, 90% of all Australia’s merchandise imports are from China, and half of those are engineering products such as office and telecommunications equipment.

Besides the well-publicised impact on airlines, universities and tourism, Australian construction companies are warning clients of upcoming project delays as a result of forecast disruptions in materials sourced from China. Aurizon, Australia’s largest rail operator, has said the coronavirus will delay the arrival of 66 new rail wagons being made in Wuhan, the city at the epicentre of the outbreak.

Expect shortages of high-tech goods

Product shortages could also soon be visible on retailers’ shelves, with electronics stores such as JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman expected to experience significant disruption to their supply of computers, televisions and smartphones.

When shortages like this occur, customers will struggle to buy the products they want, when they want them. The only channels available might be third-party resellers offering highly inflated prices. In extreme cases, supply shortages like these can also lead to panic buying and stockpiling.

More uncertainty ahead

It is commonly said that “when China sneezes, the world catches a cold”. So what is the long-term diagnosis for the coronavirus breakout, and what will the economic symptoms be?

As so much is still unknown about COVID-19, with no vaccine or formal means of preventing it spreading having emerged yet, it’s too early to predict what the full impact will be.

For many industries the next few months will bring high levels of uncertainty, with disruptions certain to continue, before recovery programs can start to gain traction.

This is obviously a worry for many organisations, but could also be a period of new opportunity for others, as the world comes to terms with this latest global health crisis. Supply chains that are agile enough to react quicker than their competitors’, or those with more robust risk management plans, might find themselves gaining greater market share as a result of this crisis.The Conversation

John L Hopkins, Theme Leader (Future Urban Mobility), Smart Cities Research Institute, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.