EU scrambles to buy intensive care drugs to tackle COVID shortages

FILE PHOTO: A pharmacist displays a box of Dexamethasone at the Erasme Hospital amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels

By Francesco Guarascio

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is seeking firms to supply 24 intensive care drugs, an EU official told Reuters, as it strives to tackle shortages of medicines for COVID-19 patients amid fears of a second wave of infections and strong global demand.

The tender, which will seek drugs for ten European Union member states, asks drugmakers to submit offers by Thursday.

It is the latest move by the executive Commission to coordinate purchases of critical treatments, vaccines and equipment for EU members amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commission was not immediately available for comment.

There are shortages of analgesics, antibiotics, muscle relaxers, anaesthetics and resuscitation drugs, among others, the source said, without identifying the names of the medicines being sought in the tender, because the procedure is not yet concluded.

An internal EU document seen by Reuters shows that in April about 100 medications for COVID-19 patients were in short supply in EU countries.

Among those not available or at risk of shortages in a large number of EU states were analgesic paracetamol; anaesthetics Fentanyl, Midazolam and Propofol; resuscitation drugs Dobutamine and Noradrenaline; muscle relaxers Cisatracurium and Rocuronium; and antibiotics Piperacillin, Azithromycin and Amoxicillin.

These drugs are mostly used in critically ill COVID-19 patients who need to be sedated for intubation.

Steroid Dexamethasone was also seen in April at risk of shortages in Ireland, Cyprus and Luxembourg. The drug, which is made by several generic drugmakers, reduces death rates in hospitalised COVID-19 patients, according to British research.

After the bids, the Commission could strike deals with companies that agree to supply the bloc with their drugs. EU states would then be able to place their orders with the manufacturers.

Joint tenders are meant to avoid competition among EU states for drugs and critical equipment.

Some EU governments have complained EU procedures are too complex, EU officials said. A tender to buy face masks initially received no offers in March. Supplies began flowing later after a second tender.

Most of the 27 EU countries reached a peak in COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths a few weeks ago, but many have recently seen a resurgence of cases and large localised outbreaks, the bloc's public health body, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said last week.