The global impact of COVID-19 on drug purchases: A cross-sectional time series analysis

J Am Pharm Assoc (2003). 2022 May-Jun;62(3):766-774.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.japh.2021.12.014. Epub 2021 Dec 24.


Background: The drug supply chain is global and at risk of disruption and subsequent drug shortages, especially during unanticipated events.

Objective: Our objective was to determine the impact of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on drug purchases overall, by class, and for specific countries.

Methods: A cross-sectional time series analysis of country-level drug purchase data from August 2014 to August 2020 from IQVIA MIDAS was conducted. Standardized units per 100 population and percentage increase in units purchased were assessed from 68 countries and jurisdictions in March 2020 (when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic). Analyses were compared by United Nations development status and drug class. Autoregressive integrated moving average models tested the significance of changes in purchasing trends.

Results: Before COVID-19, standardized medication units per 100 population ranged from 3990 to 4760 monthly. In March 2020, there was a global 15% increase in units of drugs purchased to 5309.3 units per 100 population compared with the previous year; the increase was greater in developed countries (18.5%; P < 0.001) than in developing countries (12.8%; P < 0.0001). After the increase in March 2020, there was a correction in the global purchase rate decreasing by 4.7% (April to August 2020 rate, 21,334.6/100 population; P < 0.001). Globally, we observed high purchasing rates and large changes for respiratory medicines such as inhalers and systemic adrenergic drugs (March 2020 rate, 892.7/100 population; change from 2019, 28.5%; P < 0.001). Purchases for topical dermatologic products also increased substantially (42.2%), although at lower absolute rates (610.0/100 population in March 2020; P < 0.0001). Interestingly, purchases for systemic anti-infective agents (including antiviral drugs) increased in developing countries (11.3%; P < 0.001), but decreased in developed countries (1.0%; P = 0.06).

Conclusion: We observed evidence of global drug stockpiling in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially among developed countries. Actions toward equitable distribution of medicines through a resilient drug supply chain should be taken to increase global response to future unanticipated events, such as pandemics.

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Time Factors


  • Antiviral Agents