America is facing a shortage of four key medications used for common illnesses in children as virus season comes back in full force.
Officials have declared a shortage of first-line antibiotics amoxicillin and Augmentin, which are used to treat bacterial infections. Tamiflu, the most common flu medication in the US, and albuterol, an inhaler for asthma and to open airways in the lungs, are also in short supply, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
“Right now, we are having severe shortages of medications. There’s no Tamiflu for children. There’s barely any Tamiflu for adults. And this is brand-name and generic,” Renae Kraft, a relief pharmacist in Oklahoma City, told CNN.
“As far as antibiotics go, there’s not a whole lot,” she added.
Parents have reported spending hours going from one pharmacy to another to track down the medications to treat sicknesses.
“In my 25 years of being a pediatrician, I’ve never seen anything like this,” pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. Stacene Maroushek of Hennepin Healthcare in Minnesota told CNN. “I have seen families who just aren’t getting a break. They have one viral illness after another. And now there’s the secondary effect of ear infections and pneumonia that are prompting amoxicillin shortages.”
The reason for shortages is due to increased demand, especially with a surge in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu cases. The combination of RSV, flu and COVID circulating has been called a “tripledemic.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is “high” or “very high” respiratory virus activity in more than half of the states. About 1 out of 5 tests for RSV in the nation were positive last week.
The current rates for flu hospitalizations are usually what is seen in December or January — about 8 for every 100,000 people — and the cumulative hospitalization rate hasn’t been this high this early in flu season in over a decade.
Tamiflu fills are at a 10-time high for this time of year, according to GoodRx.com. People are six times more likely to be taking Tamiflu now than they were at this time in 2019, the last pre-pandemic flu season.
It’s unclear why amoxicillin and Augmentin are facing high demands — but these drugs are known to treat many common illnesses, including ear, sinus and throat infections.
“Anytime respiratory viruses kick up, people start prescribing antibiotics, even inappropriately, and that’s created a lot of demand. That wasn’t anticipated by the manufacturers of amoxicillin, so that’s led to shortages,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said.
Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia have all reported the highest level of flu activity, according to the CDC.
Pharmaceutical companies are trying to ramp up production of the medications — but it will take time.
The companies manufacture the drugs based on orders placed prior to flu season, and this year’s orders didn’t foresee how bad the season would be.
“The combination in rapid succession of the pandemic impact and consequent demand swings, manufacturing capacity constraints, scarcity of raw materials, and the current energy crisis means we currently face a uniquely difficult situation,” Sandoz, a company that manufactures generic amoxicillin, said in a statement.
In the meantime, the US Food and Drug Administration has put out guidance to pharmacists on how to make liquid amoxicillin for children from the adult pill version in an effort to help relieve the shortage.