CLEVELAND — There has been a nationwide shortage of the popular antibiotic amoxicillin just as we are seeing a surge of illnesses among kids.
The Food and Drug Administration said the amoxicillin shortage is happening due to increased demand. Many communities are seeing a huge spike in viral illnesses from RSV, to influenza, and the common cold.
While antibiotics do not treat viruses, the increased demand is coming from the treatment of secondary bacterial infections that can happen when a child gets sick. Doctors say amoxicillin is their mainstay for ear infection, for pneumonias, and for strep throat.
It's the liquid form of amoxicillin that is in short supply — the bubble gum flavored "pink stuff," as many parents know so well, that is the easiest for kids to take.
"The challenge is that it results in some delay and additional work," said Dr. Kevin Turner, pediatrician from UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital.
The shortage has forced local doctors to make multiple calls to pharmacies to hunt down supplies, or look for alternatives, like crushing amoxicillin tablets to put in apple sauce for children.
"It can add additional frustration and challenge to an already difficult situation because you've already got a sick child and a family that's already stressed," said Turner.
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined a group of bipartisan lawmakers in writing a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the the FDA Commissioner, asking both agencies to start a drug shortage task force to address the antibiotic shortage.
In a news release, Brown noted that the "pandemic revealed gaping holes and vulnerabilities in our supply chains, perhaps none more critical than our medical supply chain. Right now, there is only one licensed manufacturer of amoxicillin in the U.S."
Brown also co-sponsored legislation with Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA), who is also a physician, called the PREPARE Act, which stands for Promoting Readiness and Ensuring Proper Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient Reserves of Essential Medicines.
The legislation is intended to create an emergency, domestic supply of key ingredients used in essential generic medicines, and would start building a more resilient supply chain here in the U.S.
The PREPARE Act would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to maintain a list of essential generic medicines and build out a domestic supply chain.
"There is no reason we should be relying on countries like China or India for nearly 90 percent of these critical pharmaceutical ingredients," Brown says. "We need to learn the lessons of COVD-19, and make sure we are better prepared for future emergencies. And we can’t forget what’s at the center of all this – keeping Americans safe and healthy – especially our children and grandchildren."
The amoxicillin shortage is expected to last a few months. In the meantime, doctors say, there's no need to panic, as the shortage -- for now -- is having a minimal impact beyond inconvenience.
"We still do have the ability and have gone through efforts, and being successful with those efforts, at being able to make sure that we have adequate, safe care for our patients," said Turner.