A recall of a “life-saving” drug used to treat critically ill patients has prompted some Canadian hospitals to begin rationing it for only the most serious cases.
Sodium bicarbonate is used to combat buildup of acid in the blood, in open heart surgery, as an antidote to certain poisons, in cases of organ failure and in some types of cancer chemotherapy.
‘Locating alternative supply may be challenging in an international shortage.’
– Health Canada
Last week, the drug’s maker, Pfizer, informed Health Canada it was recalling two lots of vials because because of possible microbial contamination.
The global supply of the vials has been tight since late May due to manufacturing delays, and Health Canada said the recall means that there is now a shortage in Canada and around the world.
The agency said it is working “to reduce the impact of the shortage on Canadian patients.”
“We are gathering information about the supply situation and possible mitigation strategies, including alternative sources,” it said in a statement Saturday. “Locating alternative supply may be challenging in an international shortage.”
‘A serious issue’
There are two injectable sodium bicarbonate drugs authorized in Canada, both supplied by Pfizer: vials and pre-filled syringes. The recall does not affect the pre-filled syringe format, and the company is allocating supply of these according to priority. It expects to ship more of them in late July or early August.
Until the supply issue is resolved, Pfizer has asked hospitals to restrict their use to life-saving procedures and critical emergencies only.
Alberta Health Services, which oversees health care for the entire province, said the recall has left it with only about a week’s supply.
“For the patients that are more critically ill, it is really something that is life-saving and is used in critical care units,” said Dr. Francois Belanger, chief medical officer for AHS. “The drug shortage is a…