Stocks of antibiotic syrups for children are at low levels, according to health professionals.

Common brands, including Augmentin and Moxiclav, have been reported as especially difficult to source, with other brands, such as Zithromax, running low. 

Times of Malta spoke to pharmacies in Sliema, St Julian’s, Rabat, Żurrieq and Marsascala, all of whom reported very low to zero stock levels of certain medicines.

At the same time as we’re seeing shortages, demand for antibiotics has gone up due to lower immunity caused by two years of reduced social contact- Paediatrician Victor Grech

One doctor reported that a patient from Qrendi was unable to source their prescription of Augmentin from nearly 20 pharmacies in the region. They eventually found it at a pharmacy in Santa Venera. 

Some doctors have taken to writing ‘either/or’ prescriptions, allowing the dispensing of alternative medicines if first-choice options are not available.

“So far, nobody has been left totally stranded due to our being able to request alternative prescriptions but stocks are running lower than usual,” one St Julian’s pharmacist said.

Shortage throughout the EU

The shortage is affecting 25 out of the 27 EU member states, according to Politico, with some countries attributing the rise in demand to increased fears over Strep A.

Health authorities in Malta have only registered one case of invasive Strep A and on Thursday issued a circular to doctors advising them to be “judicious” in their prescribing of antibiotics in response to suspected cases.

The circular clarified that the increased numbers of cases seen abroad are “not due to a more virulent or transmissible” version of the bacteria but rather the result of children being “cloistered” due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“At the same time as we’re seeing shortages, demand for antibiotics has gone up due to lower immunity caused by two years of reduced social contact,” consultant paediatrician Victor Grech said.

Parents hoarding 'just in case'

“Low stock issues have been compounded by parents hoarding medication ‘just in case’, something we would strongly discourage people from doing.”

Among the causes highlighted by the Malta Chamber of Pharmacists were “raw material supply problems from India and China, a spike in demand, transportation and logistical problems and pharmaceutical industry marketing decisions”.

These were “exacerbated by the wider economic impacts of the pandemic” and the “domino effect of Brexit”, a spokesperson said. The UK has historically been a key supplier of medicines to Malta.

Antibiotics are considered frontline treatments for bacterial infections and have revolutionised the fight against diseases such as pneumonia since their discovery in 1928.

However, overuse of the medication has been linked to new antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria such as MRSA.

In 2020, Malta introduced an eight-year strategy to combat antimicrobial resistance.

The island reported the highest consumption of antibiotics in the EU, according to a Eurobarometer survey published in November, with 42 per cent of respondents saying they had taken antibiotics in the previous year.

Meanwhile, the Malta Medicines Authority has said it is monitoring the situation.

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