Global antibiotic use during the COVID-19 pandemic: Analysis of pharmaceutical sales data from 71 countries, 2020–2022

Document Type

Article (peer-reviewed)

Publication Date



Background: Despite bacterial coinfection rates of less than 10%, antibiotics are prescribed to an estimated 75% of patients with COVID-19, potentially exacerbating antimicrobial resistance. We estimated the associations of COVID-19 cases and vaccinations with global antibiotic sales during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: We obtained monthly data on broad-spectrum antibiotic sales volumes (cephalosporins, penicillins, macrolides, and tetracyclines) in 71 countries during March 2020–May 2022 from the IQVIA MIDAS® database. These data were combined with country-month-level COVID-19 case and vaccination data from Our World in Data. We used least squares (pooled) and fixed-effects panel data regression models, accounting for country characteristics, to estimate the associations between antibiotic sales volumes and COVID-19 cases and vaccinations per 1000 people. Findings: Sales of all four antibiotics fell sharply during April and May 2020, followed by a gradual rise to near pre-pandemic levels through May 2022. In fixed-effects regression models, a 10% increase in monthly COVID-19 cases was associated with 0.2%–0.3% higher sales of cephalosporins, 0.2%–0.3% higher sales of penicillins, 0.4%–0.6% higher sales of macrolides, and 0.3% higher sales of all four antibiotics combined per 1000 people. Across continents, a 10% increase in monthly COVID-19 cases was associated with 0.8%, 1.3%, and 1.5% higher macrolides sales in Europe, North America, and Africa respectively. Sales of other antibiotics across continent were also positively associated with COVID-19 cases, although the estimated associations were smaller in magnitude. No consistent associations were observed between antibiotic sales and COVID-19 vaccinations. Results from pooled regression analysis were similar to those from the fixed-effects models. Interpretation: Antibiotic sales were positively associated with COVID-19 cases globally during 2020–2022. Our findings underline that antibiotic stewardship in the context of COVID-19 remains essential. Funding: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.