America running out of key antibiotics and respiratory drugs for children amid “tripledemic”

The United States is running out of four key antibiotics and respiratory drugs for children, which doctors claim are essential for fighting off seasonal diseases.

Public health officials have declared a shortage of frontline antibiotics like amoxicillin and Augmentin – an antibiotic made up of amoxicillin mixed with clavulanic acid. Both drugs are used to treat bacterial infections like pneumonia, respiratory infections and strep throat. (Related: Emergency rooms packed with children sick with RSV due as amoxicillin shortage rages.)

According to the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, the U.S. is also experiencing shortages of Tamiflu and albuterol. The former is the most common medication given for influenza, and the latter is an inhaler for children with asthma to help them open up the airways in their lungs.

“Right now, we are having severe shortages of medications,” said Renae Kraft, a relief pharmacist working in Oklahoma City. “There’s no Tamiflu for children. There’s barely any Tamiflu for adults – and this is brand-name and generic.”

“As far as antibiotics go, there’s not a whole lot,” she added.

Public health officials have blamed the shortages due to increased demand caused by the recent surge in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu cases. These two diseases, coupled with a recent surge in the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19), have been called the “tripledemic.”

“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,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Parents spend hours tracking down meds their children need

Kraft often works in rural areas, floating between pharmacies where extra help is needed.

On Monday, Nov. 21, Kraft came in to help one of the two pharmacies in Holdenville, a small town of less than 6,000, 65 miles southeast of Oklahoma City. At least 20 people came in that day to fill prescriptions for Tamiflu, only to be turned away because the store did not have any.

This situation is becoming more prevalent, as families with sick children spend hours driving from pharmacy to pharmacy trying to find a drug store that still has a supply of amoxicillin, Augmentin, Tamiflu, albuterol or a combination of the four.

Parents all over social media have noted that they are even having difficulty finding oseltamivir, the generic version of Tamiflu. Some parents in emergency rooms have reported waiting up to 15 hours or more just for their children to get the amoxicillin they need.

“In my 25 years of being a pediatrician, I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Dr. Stacene Maroushek, a pediatric infectious disease specialist working at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis. “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.”

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