Inhaler medication shortage during COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus

CLEVELAND (WJW) – As coronavirus cases continue to rise some pharmacists are expressing concern about a shortage of albuterol inhaler medication often used by people who have asthma.

“We’re definitely seeing that the albuteral shortage is impacted by the COVID pandemic,” explained Dr. Jaclyn Boyle, Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice a Northeast Ohio Medical University.

Dr. Boyle says the concern is patients with COVID-19 in the hospital using a nebulizer to help with breathing could spread the virus in the air. Although she stresses the science behind that worry so far is unproven.

“Patients that do have COVID positive tests or they are suspected to have COVID are using those dry powder inhalers to minimize the risk that COVID would be transmitted unintentionally through medication delivery,” she explained.

A spokesperson for GSK one of the largest manufacturers of albuterol inhalers issued the following statement to Fox 8 about their brand name Ventolin inhaler:

“We are experiencing an increase in demand for Ventolin inhalers and we are actively managing supply. To help ensure continuity of supply of products to patients across the globe, we are only providing supply to our customers based on historical supply trends. We are continuing to monitor all parts of our supply chains closely and proactively assessing existing contingency plans which might be required, should the situation persist or worsen.”

Pharmacist Ernest Boyd, the Executive Director of the Ohio Pharmacists Association says he has received calls from community pharmacists about the inhaler supply.

“The fear obviously would be, ‘What if I don’t have access to an inhaler? Could I end up in a problem?’ and I would suggest that patients with the concern talk to their pharmacist, talk to their physician about alternative therapies.”

A Walgreens spokesperson issued the following statement:

“We are closely monitoring the situation, and at this time we are able to meet the needs of our patients. Patients with questions about medications can reach out any time via phone or using the pharmacy chat option available on Walgreens.com and Walgreens app.”

In the meantime Mr. Boyd requests people who feel sick should use the drive-thru pharmacy instead of visiting in person. He says many pharmacists have raised alarm about the lack of personal protective equipment provided during this pandemic.

“Right now the pharmacists and technicians are the least protected of all health professionals and yet they’re the ones you go to first when you’re sick.”

University Hospitals issued the following statement Monday evening:

Currently, UH is prioritizing use of inhalers for COVID-19 patients or those under investigation for COVID-19. Nebulizers are very effective in treating patients with asthma or COPD, but the mist they produce may carry the virus with it and pose a risk to our staff who are in the room caring for the patient. Our staff is trained to deliver both inhalers and nebulizers safely to patients while protecting themselves. Patients coming into the health care facility for treatment should bring their inhalers with them so we conserve the hospital’s inhalers and decrease exposure to our staff. As the COVID-19 epidemic continues, and with pollen-induced asthma season just around the corner, we anticipate a shortage of inhalers. UH will continue to use medical devices and medications responsibly and apply appropriate conservation methods in the case of a COVID-19 patient surge.

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