Update regarding medicines supply in the context of the COVID-19 crisis (23 April 2020)
Full-service healthcare distributors are critical to the functioning of all national healthcare systems by ensuring the continuity of medicine supply.
In the context of COVID-19, GIRP members have been investing in staff, systems and stock to maintain the continuous supply of medicines and medical products.
In order to respond to future challenges from the COVID-19 crisis, full-service healthcare distributors have rapidly developed coordinated contingency plans and aligned their quality and risk management systems. This allows for the deployment of measures at short notice to respond to newly arising needs.
GIRP would like to recognise full-service healthcare distributors’ employees, especially those working in distribution centres and drivers, for their brave and dedicated commitment to working relentlessly throughout this crisis period.
GIRP is actively engaging with European institutions and national governments to highlight the availability of the full-service healthcare distribution sector to support healthcare systems.
Full-service healthcare distributors have well-established distribution infrastructure in every country in Europe that can ensure the appropriate and equitable distribution of products to all points of dispense. This includes the fair distribution of masks, gloves, antibody tests and, in the future, a life-saving vaccine.
As an association, GIRP has been working with partners such as the European Commission, European Medicines Agency (EMA), Heads of Medicine Agencies (HMA), and pharmacy and pharmaceutical manufacturing trade bodies to identify and mitigate possible impediments to the safe and secure distribution of the increased volumes of medicines or medicinal products.
Overview of challenges arising in the context of COVID-19 and measures taken to ensure
the safe and efficient delivery of medicines across Europe
1. Border closures and restrictions
As the COVID-19 outbreak hit Europe, European Member States quickly endeavored to close their borders and limit the movement of people in order to contain the spread. As production and distribution of medicines is a multinational activity, the significant border delays have considerably impacted the transport of medicines.
2. Export bans
Since the start of the crisis, Member States have been implementing export bans on certain categories of medicinal products to other EU Member States. Such restrictions have detrimental impact on the availability of medicines in some EU markets and can lead to shortages in other EU Member States, who depend on these imports.
3. Rise in demand in medicines
Before and shortly after containment measures were introduced, demand for medicines and other medical products in some regions exceeded 2 to 3 times normal levels, confronting retail pharmacies and full-service healthcare distributors serving them with an unprecedented level of orders.
4. Minimising the effect of shortages of essential medicines
In the event of supply shortages, it is necessary for full-service healthcare distributors to take measures to minimise the impact of shortages on patients.
Full-service healthcare distributors are already experiencing challenges in relation to supply shortages caused by the gap between increased demand at pharmacy-level with unchanged inbound quantities received from manufacturers.
5. Critical infrastructure
Full-service healthcare distributors are recognised in most EU Member States as part of the critical infrastructure.
As lockdowns measures have been extended by national authorities, it was essential that full-service healthcare distributors could maintain staffing levels and services, including deliveries to and within quarantined / locked- down / restricted areas.
The critical infrastructure status confers full-service healthcare distributors the means to ensure the stability needed to maintain the necessary activity levels for medicines distribution
6. Regulatory Flexibility
In the context of COVID-19, the EU institutions and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), play a key role in providing regulatory flexibility that allow for the adaptation of procedures during times of crisis. With the input from stakeholders representing the pharmaceutical industry and full-service healthcare distributors, the EU authorities have developed a Q&A document to provide guidance to stakeholders on adaptations to the regulatory framework to address challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Full-service healthcare distributors remain fully dedicated to the fight against COVID-19. They fully assume their responsibility in tackling the outbreak and stand with healthcare stakeholders and professionals to the service of patients to help the fight against the virus.