HALIFAX – Pharmacists are adjusting treatment plans because some pharmaceutical companies in Canada are reporting shortages of antibiotics commonly used to treat children.
Four pharmaceutical companies are reporting shortages of drugs containing the antibiotic amoxicillin, Health Canada said.
Melanie MacInnis, a pharmacist and clinical pharmacy coordinator at the IWK Children’s Hospital in Halifax, said amoxicillin is a go-to drug for treating various illnesses in children.
“It’s the initial choice for many common infections…we use it a lot,” MacInnis said in an interview Monday, including to treat pneumonia, bronchitis and ear infections.
Pharmaceutical companies Sanis Health, Apotex, GSK and Teva Canada have each reported shortages of amoxicillin to the Canadian Drug Shortages Database. Health Canada said there are eight other drugmakers offering amoxicillin-containing drugs that are not currently reporting supply issues.
MacInnis said the hospital is closely monitoring its inventory and pharmacists are developing alternative medication plans in consultation with physicians to manage drug supply.
“When your primary tool is out of your toolbox, you have to improvise and think about it a bit more to get to the same end point,” she said. Alternative treatments, MacInnis added, depend on the type of infection being treated and the age of the patient.
If a child has a lung infection, for example, doctors and pharmacists might switch to another class of antibiotics. That could include drugs like azithromycin or clarithromycin, which belong to the macrolide class and work “in a slightly different way, but are just as effective,” MacInnis said.
The pharmacist said that in some cases – depending on the dosage and availability of the drugs – a child might be prescribed amoxicillin in a form other than the typical liquid drug suspension. “Maybe even a capsule that could be opened and put in pudding or yogurt.”
The antibiotic shortage comes amid an unusually early rise in illnesses among children, with children’s hospitals in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal reporting high numbers of emergency room visits. The problem is not unique to Canada, as the United States Food and Drug Administration also reports a shortage of amoxicillin due to increased demand for the drug.
Health Canada said in a statement Monday that it would follow up on companies reporting shortages and “take action” alongside drugmakers, provinces and territories to resolve supply issues.
MacInnis said she expects that by early December pharmacies will have a better idea of what type of amoxicillin supply is available.
Sanis Health and GSK both reported that the cause of the shortage is increased demand, while Apotex and Teva Canada reported that a disruption in drug manufacturing is to blame for the shortage.
A vice president of corporate affairs for Apotex said in an email that the company’s supply issues also stem from a sudden surge in demand for antibiotics.
Jordan Berman said that by the spring of 2022, when many COVID-19 restrictions were still in place, demand for antibiotics was down 40-60% over the previous two years.
“The supply chain is now catching up with this sharp return to previous demand levels,” Berman said.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on November 7, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.
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