Confronting medication scarcity in the era of COVID-19

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over the past decade, US patients and clinicians have endured medication shortages of nearly every class, including many lifesaving medications. These shortages have persisted despite determined efforts by federal, academic, and professional organizations. Medication shortages have resulted in lost lives, medication errors, and substantial financial cost. Economic drivers are the primary cause for drug shortages, exacerbated by manufacturing and quality problems, and unreliable and uncertain sources for many raw materials required to synthesize these drugs. Drug shortages force clinicians to make untenable choices and decide which of their patients should receive a lifesaving scarce medication. The COVID-19 pandemic has stressed many hospitals’ ability to provide basic care and aggravated existing drug shortages. The influx of patients suffering from COVID-19 has exposed flaws in the fractured manner in which essential medications reach patients. The unique nature of COVID-19, often requiring prompt and decisive clinical decision-making, challenges the accepted approach for ethical analysis adopted by clinical ethicists. The author, a clinician and bioethicist, notes the ethical challenges he and other frontline providers have faced in deciding which patients are “more deserving” of a scarce medication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-86
Number of pages4
JournalClinical Ethics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Ethics
  • medication
  • rationing
  • shortages

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Philosophy


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