Drug Shortage Distress

With the nation’s attention riveted on the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, drugs that allow patients to deal with other serious medical conditions are falling by the wayside. But it doesn’t need to be that way. 

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020 gave the Food and Drug Administration the power to prevent and mitigate drug shortages without affecting the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. Now, patients and advocates alike are asking the agency to use its authority to address dips in the supply of much-needed treatments. 

The drug teprotumumab provides one example. It’s the only FDA-approved pharmaceutical treatment for a rare, serious condition known as thyroid eye disease. The condition causes severe dry eye, light sensitivity, double vision, and painful bulging of the eyes, among other debilitating symptoms. 

Teprotumumab’s manufacturing process has been restricted to allow for more COVID-19 vaccine production. The result: patients with thyroid eye disease say the medication they need is nowhere to be found.

“There’s none of it anywhere – and I’ve done the research,” said Debi Boyd, who was only one infusion away from completing treatment. “My quality of life is so much better from the seven treatments I’ve had, but I wish I could have finished the treatment as it was meant to be used.” 

The disruption in consistent access to treatment also worries Jeff Todd, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness. “It is critical that the treatment is not delayed and is provided without interruption,” he noted.

Vision patients are hardly the only ones affected. People living with respiratory issues, low blood pressure or chronic pain may also be feeling the pain of drug shortages.

But a solution is well within policymakers’ power. The CARES Act allocated $80 million to support, among other things, advanced manufacturing capacity for medical products and drugs.

The U.S. Government and Operation Warp Speed should be commended for their tireless efforts to protect Americans from the COVID-19 pandemic. To balance the needs of all patients, however, policymakers must combat the virus without losing access to other crucial pharmaceutical treatments. Here’s hoping the federal government heads the calls and acts soon. 


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