Eleven children’s hospitals have teamed up to form The Children’s Hospital Coalition, aimed at mitigating the effects of drug shortages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When drugs needed for pediatric patients with cancer fall into short supply, treatment may be delayed and hospitals may have to recalibrate doses of medications intended for use in adults, increasing the risk of treatment errors. These therapies include pain medications, sedatives, nutrition management products, and blood pressure maintenance drugs.
A 2020 report released by Vizient, a health-care performance improvement company based in Texas, found that drug shortages disproportionately affect children’s hospitals compared with other hospitals. The pharmaceutical market contributes to this disparity, they added. Because children comprise 25% of the population, financial incentives are not powerful enough to produce many pediatric treatment options, so if just one manufacturer comes up short on its pediatric formulation of a drug, that may be enough to cause supply concerns for hospitals.
“Our staff, our teams, they’re always in a position of ‘Okay, this week we’ve got to keep our eye out to make sure we have a supply,’” said Kurt Newman, MD, CEO of Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C. “It’s not like you can easily take the adult version of that medication and modify it for use in children. That takes a lot of work.”
“We tend to have anywhere from five to seven days on hand of drugs at any given time,” said Eric Balmir, PharmD, vice president and chief pharmacy officer at Children’s National. But when shortages occur, “that five to seven days can go down to two or one days, and when we get to that level, we are working furiously not to go down to zero.”
“We talk about progress in childhood cancer, but could you imagine a decrease in outcome because we can’t get a drug?” Douglas Hawkins, chairman of cancer research organization the Children’s Oncology Group, said. “That’s kind of amazing in 2021.”