Medicine availability remains normal

The coronavirus pandemic has not compromised the supply of medicines in Finland or the rest of the EU. However, should the pandemic continue for a prolonged period, the availability of medicines may be affected.

Quarantines and illness resulting from the coronavirus have taken a toll on plants’ production, particularly in areas significantly affected by the pandemic. In China, many plants and factories stayed closed following the Chinese New Year holidays, including pharmaceutical raw material manufacturers. On top of this, the restrictions in shipping and air freight have further disrupted the supply of a few end products. 

So far, the shortage of ingredients has not caused disruptions in the availability of medicines in Finland. “We have ample contingency reserves of active pharmaceutical ingredients and excipients,” says Liisa Hurme, Orion’s Senior Vice President for Supply Chain. Orion does not source any pharmaceutical end products from China. 

Fimea requires pharmaceutical companies to be prepared for ongoing supply disruptions with Chinese manufacturers. “We are prepared for various risks potentially affecting the supply chain. Orion has built a pool of registered replacement suppliers in Asia and Europe in the past few years,” Hurme says.  

Contingency plans in use 

When the first news about the coronavirus broke after New Year, Orion took immediate action. “We started activating our alternative supply chains in January. Pharmaceutical manufacturing is subject to strict control, and mobilising new production can easily take months. The manufacturer’s capacity is also a factor in how quickly normal supply can resume,” Hurme says. 

All Orion’s plants are located in Finland, and Orion’s subsidiary Fermion is a global manufacturer of several active pharmaceutical ingredients. This helps secure Orion’s operations and supply. Therefore, the availability of many pharmaceutical products and ingredients are largely in Orion’s own hands as long as critical precursors and components remain available.  

Mandatory reserves give security 

Finland operates a statutory system of mandatory reserves. This means that there must always be reserves of certain medical products in case of disruptions in supply. The size of reserves that must be stocked varies between products. Maintaining the mandatory reserve supplies is the responsibility of the holders of respective market authorisations. As Orion has an extensive portfolio of medical products, it is also one of Finland’s biggest holders of mandatory reserve supplies.  

If Chinese factories remain closed until late spring or shipments cannot be delivered as usual, the impact will gradually hit the entire global market. Hurme says that there will be a shortage of all ingredients manufactured in China as contingency reserves run low or run out. “For example, the active pharmaceutical ingredients for antibiotics are mostly imported from China.”  

In a crisis, the necessity of mandatory reserves and risk preparedness is genuinely felt. In Finland, every base is covered so that the distribution of medical products is secured in all circumstances. This requires robust planning and transparent collaboration between authorities, pharmaceutical manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. “There is no need for consumers to stockpile medicines,” says Paula Rytilä, Chief Medical Officer at Orion. 


 17 March 2020