Dec 16, 2022 - News

Pediatric drug shortages hit Utah as winter illnesses surge

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Utah parents and doctors are struggling to get essential children's medicine as the state experiences a surge in winter illnesses.

Driving the news: Stores are running out of children's Tylenol and pharmacists are trying to reformulate adult doses of antivirals like Tamiflu, Intermountain Healthcare doctors said Thursday in a news conference.

  • Amoxicillin — a go-to antibiotic for kids with strep and pneumonia — is also running low, some parents who couldn't find any told Axios.

Why it matters: Utah is seeing its worst flu season in a decade, said Tamara Sheffield, Intermountain's medical director for preventive care.

  • Primary Children's is so full that about 150 surgeries were canceled in the past three weeks to free up doctors, nurses and beds for kids with winter illnesses.

What's happening: The outbreak of viruses like flu and RSV is dovetailing with supply chain problems that have led to multiple drug shortages in the past two years.

  • "These are cheap drugs. They're generic drugs," Erin Fox, a pharmacist who oversees drug supply tracking for the University of Utah, told Axios. "Drug companies don't have a lot of incentive to keep extra on hand. When we see a spike like this, we end up with shortages."

Details: For prescription drugs like Tamiflu and antibiotics, the shortage is of specific popular doses and strengths, Fox said

  • When a pharmacy doesn't have the prescribed strength, patients often have to search multiple pharmacies or revisit their doctor for a new prescription.

State of play: The shortages are so bad that some health care providers are creating online tutorials showing parents how to re-dose adult drugs for kids, said Per Gesteland, a pediatric hospitalist at University Health and Primary Children's.

Of note: Gesteland urged parents to talk with their doctors and local pharmacists instead to see if they have anything in stock. Or ask neighbors and friends if they have extra to share.

Meanwhile: Parents are turning to Utah community groups for help finding ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Several families have offered partly used bottles to strangers.

The bottom line: With treatments scarce and new COVID strains becoming more resistant to antivirals, it's crucial to get vaccinated — especially before holiday get-togethers, Sheffield said.

  • Insurance plans generally cover flu shots, which are available at most pharmacies, and all are required to cover COVID vaccines.
  • People who are uninsured or have hefty copays can get flu shots at several county and community health centers, listed here.

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