Across the EU, common pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics and children's pain relievers are short in supply.

  • This photograph taken on October 19, 2022, shows medicine boxes on shelves at a pharmacy in Paris. (AFP)
    This photograph shows medicine boxes on shelves at a pharmacy in Paris, October 19, 2022. (AFP)

Since late 2022, EU countries have reported substantial difficulties obtaining key vital pharmaceuticals, with the majority now experiencing shortages.

In a new report, Politico eviscerated the severity of the issue and, more importantly, what is done about it. 

Is Europe running out of medicines?

A survey of groups representing pharmacies in 29 European countries, including EU members as well as Turkey, Kosovo, Norway, and North Macedonia, showed that over a quarter of countries reported a scarcity of more than 600 pharmaceuticals, while 20% reported a shortage of 200-300 drugs. 

Three-quarters of the countries indicated this winter's shortages were worse than a year earlier.  According to groups in four nations, shortages have been the cause of several deaths. 

It's a picture supported by regulatory data. According to Belgian officials, approximately 300 drugs are in limited supply. In Germany, that number is 408, while in Austria, more than 600 drugs are unavailable in pharmacies. 

Italy's list is much longer, containing nearly 3,000 medications, many of which are different versions of the same medicine.

Wide antibiotics shortage

Antibiotics are in short supply amoxicillin, used to treat respiratory infections. Other drug groups, such as cough syrup, children's paracetamol, and blood pressure medication, are similarly rare.

What's behind the shortage is a combination of rising demand and decreased supply.

Seasonal diseases, most notably influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), have begun early and are more severe than usual. There is also an uncommon incidence of Strep A in children. Experts believe the exceptionally high level of disease activity is due to immune systems that are no longer accustomed to the soup of germs that surrounds us on a daily basis as a result of lockdowns. 

After a couple of peaceful years (with the exception of COVID-19), this tough winter took drugmakers off guard.

Inflation and the rising energy crisis have also weighed on pharmaceutical firms, affecting supplies.

Read next: Spain: Patients must choose between eating or breathing

Will downplaying the drug shortage fix the crisis?

In principle, the EU should be more prepared than ever to deal with a pan-European crisis. It has reportedly improved its legislation to address health issues such as a scarcity of medications. The EMA's power is to monitor medicine shortages that have expanded. 

A new entity, the Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA), has been established, with the authority to go to the market and buy pharmaceuticals for the entire bloc. However, not everyone agrees that it is yet that bad.

The EMA opted last Thursday not to petition the Commission to designate the Amoxycillin shortage a "major event," which would have triggered some (limited) EU-wide action, claiming that current steps are helping the situation.

Read next: Europe faces massive shortage of doctors, zooming in on France

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