If you had struggled to secure your regular stock of Vitamin C and multi-vitamin tablets during the lockdown, here is good news from the drug regulators and industry players about supplies easing despite the Covid-19 crisis.

Prescribed as an immunity booster that may help prevent coronavirus infection, Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) tablets and other multi-vitamin subsitutes for vitamin-D and zinc had witnessed a sudden spurt in demand, making it difficult for companies to manage the supplies.

Speaking to Businessline about the supply situation , Hemant Koshia, Commissioner, Food and Drug Control Authority - Gujarat stated that during the lockdown period, there were logistics and operational limitations for the manufacturers, who operated at a reduced capacity.

“There was a time when Chinese Active Pharma ingredient (API) supplies were also uncertain due to lockdown in Chinese city of Wuhan. We faced some supply issues at that time. But by March the supplies from China had started easing. Now there is no shortage of any kind for any drug be it vitamin tablets or other Covid-19 management drugs. Many factories making vitamin tablets have already started functioning at an improved capacity utilisation of about 70-75 per cent,” said Koshia.

Even before India imposed Covid-19 lockdown from March 25, the authorities and industry had assured there was sufficient inventory for three months. However, Chinese supplies had resumed sooner than expected and the inventory level returned to normal, Koshia said.

Mumbai-based Jagannath Shinde, President of All India Organization of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) informed that the stock situation at chemists has also improved over the past few weeks. “Earlier there was shortage of branded vitamin products from leading players. But now at retail level also we see adequate 4-week stock of the drugs. Except for small markets or pockets, where it takes longer to physically deliver a product, there is no shortage anywhere else,” Shinde said.

Industry insiders noted that during the complete lockdown period in March-April, the prices of raw material, i.e. API for vitamins had more than doubled from ₹400-450 a kg for ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) to ₹900 amid rumours of shortage.

“For API, initially, there were issues of supplies. The pandemic spread so suddenly and the complete lockdown with restrictions on logistics and plant operations made things even more difficult. So there was a temporary surge in prices. But now the supply pipeline has been replenished and prices have also started to cool off from their peak levels during lockdown,” said Viranchi Shah, director, Saga Laboratories in Ahmedabad.

A sudden spurt in demand and sudden price advantage attracted many generic players, holding licence to make Vitamin C tablets - to jump into the fray and get a pie of the market. “This became a simple opportunity for the generic players. Most players didn't make it because there was no specific demand for these products on a regular basis. But now with sudden rush for immunity boosters, they spotted an opportunity here and ventured into it. This has helped in easing the shortage situation in the market,” said Shah.

For companies engaged in drug manufacturing, venturing into vitamin tablets was an easy business. First, there was no marketing required for their products, as the demand was already high, secondly, with restrictions on staff for plant operations and distribution, they would want products that move fast and easily.

A Surat-based generic drug maker, Himanshu Zota of Zota Healthcare Limited has recently launched his own vitamin-c generic product in the market. “Earlier there was not much consumption for vitamin substitutes. But after Covid-19 outbreak, we are seeing sharp surge in the demand for Vitamin C tablets as immunity booster. We have launched our generic Vitamin C product recently. And looking at making good business out of this,” Zota said.