Investigators Urge Communication, Collaboration to Handle COVID-19 Related Drug Shortages

Planning on how to address drug and equipment shortages will be essential to continuing patient care in the coming months.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic may exacerbate preexisting shortages of vital medications, according to a paper published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society. Planning on how to address these shortages will be essential to continuing patient care in the coming months, according to the authors.

“It is critical that these conversations occur now due to current shortages, as well as the necessary lead time to plan for future shortages,” said co-author Andrew Shuman, MD, in a statement.

Shuman added that COVID-19, supply chain interruptions, and anticipated increased intensive care unit needs will continue to put a strain on drug supplies. Collaborating with federal, state, and local governments, as well as medical professionals across all levels, will be important to formulating a plan and response. Health systems and professionals are already adept at managing shortages, the authors said, but coordinating with others will ensure better information and guidance.

Regional communication, in particular, can affect local supply chains while encouraging coordination and sharing mechanisms, according to the authors. In many states, they added, local governments require individual health systems to report the number of ventilators they have and reserves the right to redistribute those ventilators to hospitals in need.

“Although this process has been far from perfect, such a model of distribution holds promise and should not be abandoned,” the authors wrote.

The sharing of information and manpower is absolutely vital, emphasizing that it is critical to expand these networks, according to the paper. Although larger institutions may have dedicated resources to identify and mitigate shortages, creating and maintaining networks between those institutions and smaller institutions—especially between pharmacists—is important to inform the clinical team.

“Often informed by the pharmacists serving within the interprofessional group, critical care providers are all-too-familiar with shortages of medications that are an essential part of their day-to-day management, and thus, are accustomed to improvising in selected circumstances,” the authors wrote.

The medication supply chain was already vulnerable, the authors concluded, and if not handled, could result in shortages of life-saving drugs for patients both with and without COVID-19. Clinicians will need to communicate at all levels in order to handle the shortages and will need to use the best available evidence to conserve existing supplies and plan for contingencies.

“Only with clear lines of communication and a proactive, collaborative approach can we weather this impending storm,” the authors concluded.


Shuman A, Fox E, Unguru Y. Preparing for COVID-19 Related Drug Shortages. Annals of the American Thoracic Society; June 3, 2020. Accessed June 18, 2020.