The Korea Herald


Scarcity of cold medicines looms in S. Korea following shortage in China

By Lee Yoon-seo

Published : Dec. 12, 2022 - 15:48

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People line up in front of a pharmacy in Beijing, China on Thursday. (Yonhap) People line up in front of a pharmacy in Beijing, China on Thursday. (Yonhap)

South Korea may experience trouble in importing raw materials for cold medicines in the near future due to a cold medicine shortage in China, according to industry insiders Tuesday.

China, South Korea’s main importer of raw materials for cold medicine, is currently experiencing a dearth of cold medicines with people bulk-buying them following the country's relaxing of quarantine policies.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety recently cautioned South Korean pharmaceutical companies regarding disruptions to the production and supply of cold medicines in the country.

"Because there may soon be trouble in importing raw materials for cold medicines such as antipyretics, we believe that preemptive measures are needed to prevent disruptions in the production and supply of cold medicine," the announcement said.

"Companies are urged to secure the raw materials (for cold medicines) and make sure no shortage occurs," it added.

The ministry’s warning follows the dire scarcity of cold medicines currently observed in China. China currently accounts for 37.5 percent of cold medicine raw material imports into South Korea, while Japan and India are responsible for 11.7 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively.

As China recently pivoted away from its strict “zero-COVID” policy on Dec. 7, its pharmacies have been seeing extreme shortages of cold-related medicines.

According to Chinese media group Caixin Media, supplies of Ibuprofen, a popular antipyretic, ran out in Beijing as of Dec. 6.

In Guangzhou, supplies of fever reducers also ran out, with the city's sales of cold medicine seeing a 2.5-fold increase compared to the month before.

Industry officials said the shortage of cold medicine in China is affecting domestic pharmaceutical companies' production of cold medicines for South Korea.

"The supply of raw materials imported from China is currently not smooth, and we are seeing more demand than supply in South Korea right now," an official from Chong Kun Dang Pharmaceutical who wished to remain anonymous told The Korea Herald.

When asked if the company could change its main importer, the official replied that it was difficult for a pharmaceutical company to quickly change its cold medicine raw materials importer, because the processes for changing importers and getting them approved is difficult and time-consuming.

Instead, the industry official suggested that domestic production of raw materials need to increase. In order to do so, more investments need to be made for production facilities.

"In order to increase production, we need to invest heavily in production facilities," the official said. "Recently, drug prices have been increased, but this will only yield a temporary effect for the pharmaceutical companies."

Efforts to increase the price of cold medicine has been made by the Ministry of Health and Welfare in Nov. 23 to stabilize the supply and demand of cold medicines.

The decision to raise the price of acetaminophen, the main ingredient for cold medicines, from 50 won to 70-90 won per pill took effect last month.