Drug companies refocusing efforts on vaccines, leading to other shortages

Reporter: Veronica Marshall Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:

The vaccine rollout effort has disrupted the medicine supply chain. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer is now reporting shortages of birth control after the company reorganized its priorities to producing COVID-19 shots.

For more than 40 years, Cypress Pharmacy has helped people get the medical care they need, but this year, it’s harder.

“There’s been instances where there’s been no product available. Meds that people have been on for 20 years – there’s just nobody to produce it,” said T.J. DePaola, pharmacist in charge at Cypress Pharmacy.

He said the pandemic has led to all kinds of medication shortages [list].

“The one that hit first was a lot of the injectables. A lot of the doctor’s offices were having trouble getting injectable lidocaine, which they use before the procedures.”

The latest on the list: Pfizer’s Depo-Provera. The company shifted production of the birth control shot to the coronavirus vaccine.

“They have to prioritize, and they have to sacrifice one thing to be able to make room for another,” said Dr. Tinglong Dai, a professor at Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School.

“Pfizer has to basically reduce the capacity reserved for other drugs.”

Dai said that’s because of the federal government’s Defense Production Act.

“The Biden Administration wants to prioritize vaccine production, so they invoke the Defense Production Act. So now, these production facilities, they have to prioritize vaccine manufacturing. And so they, so they actually need to delay the production for other drugs.”

Dai believes the production delay is temporary, but there’s a way the federal government can prepare for the next health care crisis without forcing manufacturers and patients to make any sacrifices.

“Although we have a lot of production facilities, the capacity overall is very tight,” Dai said.

“The government should start building a little bit of non-for-profit vaccine manufacturing facility. And that facility does not have to be used all the time, but it could be useful and could be used as the backup option.”

If you take Depo-Provera and can’t get it through your normal pharmacy, Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida said it can help. They aren’t experiencing any interruptions at this time.

Pfizer’s statement on medication shortages:

“To respond to the dire need to vaccinate more people with our COVID-19 vaccine, we have committed to increasing its supply. This has been enabled through the efforts of our manufacturing division to increase procurement of raw materials and by prioritizing our vaccine on additional fill and finish lines. As a result, production for a small portion of Pfizer’s portfolio will be temporarily impacted. We recognize the importance of each of our medicines to patients and physicians around the world. We are actively working to mitigate any supply interruptions, and we have ensured that there are available therapeutic alternatives to the medicines that will be impacted. For example, In U.S. there are generic brands available of Depo-Provera.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to provide equitable access to all our medicines, including our COVID-19 vaccine, for everyone around the world.”

Planned Parenthood statement on availability:

“Having access to the birth control method that works best for you is important to each individual’s ability to plan their lives. Patients who choose to use the birth control shot will continue to be able to access it through Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida; we do not anticipate any interruptions at this time. If we experience a shortage in the future, we will work with our patients to find an appropriate alternative.”

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