A Senate inquiry heard criticism on a lack of information and transparency from manufacturers – while manufacturers complained of increased regulation, varying demand, logistical problems of keeping vaccines cool, and a lack of understanding of the long lead time, sometimes three years, needed to make some vaccines.
Medicines, too, have been affected with supplies of high blood pressure drug Valsartan suddenly cut to 600,000 people after an impurity was found at a Chinese manufacturer.
The Académie de Pharmacie said more than 500 drugs had been in short supply last year – an increase of 30% on 2016 – with cancer drugs, antibiotics and vaccines the hardest hit.
It puts local chemists under pressure. In Barbezieux, Charente, pharmacists said Pneumovax, which protects against chest infection and is prescribed for those with weakened immune systems and/or receiving heavy cancer treatments, was often out of stock.
One had just two doses in stock but had run out previously. “We try to get new supplies quickly or to help each other in the town, but usually everyone has problems at the same time.”
Calls to wholesalers and manufacturers had produced no answer leaving chemists “frustrated at being in the dark”.
Pneumovax manufacturers MSD Vaccins, part of the Merck group, could not speak to Connexion about the shortages.
France’s main vaccine maker, Sanofi, told the Senate inquiry it was working to communicate better with pharmacies and to anticipate demand.
Both Senate and the Académie de Pharmacie sounded the alarm but noted that other European countries were also seeing a degradation of service.
The situation was made worse in France due to its pricing system for drugs, which meant companies sent scarce stocks to countries that paid more.
Shortages of vaccines come as a rise in people refusing vaccinations has seen the return of diseases such as measles, scabies and syphilis. With 41,000 cases of measles in the first half of 2018 this is seven times the number in 2016.
Doctors said an infected person could infect up to 18 other people and that it needed 90% vaccination coverage to stop the spread, but today only 80% were being vaccinated.