Today, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) led a bipartisan letter with Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (OH-16) to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) requesting information on shortage of vincristine, a vital pediatric cancer drug. The letter, joined by 10 of their colleagues, highlights the critical importance of vincristine in treatments for children fighting cancer and the dire consequences of the shortage. According to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports, the United States faces a critical shortage of the drug that is expected to last until December or January.
“Since the FDA announced the vincristine shortage on October 16, 2019, we have heard from parents of children currently fighting cancer who worry for the health of their child and other children due to the vincristine shortage. Without an adequate supply of vincristine, the treatment of countless children may have to be delayed or stopped altogether,” the members wrote. “This is not acceptable for the families of children that are fighting for their lives every day.”
Vincristine is indispensable in treating numerous childhood cancers such as leukemias, lymphomas and brain tumors. Without an adequate supply of the drug, doctors and families of children fighting for their lives don’t know if treatments will be delayed or stopped.
“I heard from Linsey in Shenandoah who has a two year old daughter with leukemia, and she’s terrified her daughter won’t be able to finish her cancer treatments; and I heard from Nita in Casey whose five year old grandson is also battling leukemia. Any lapse in medication puts the effectiveness of his treatment at risk,” Rep. Axne said. “As a mom of two boys, I was horrified when I learned this was happening. That’s why I asked other parents in Congress to sign onto my bipartisan letter to get answers.”
This year one of only two companies making the drug, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., ceased production; the other, Pfizer Inc., experienced a delay in manufacturing. The joint effect triggered a critical shortage. Although Teva has since announced it will make its version of vincristine available again next year and Pfizer is remedying its production delay, concerns remain that future drug shortages could mean missed or reduced treatments for patients across the United States.
“This shortage of a live-saving drug for children is unacceptable. As a pediatrician, I do everything I can to take care of my patients, and I cannot imagine what doctors and parents are going through right now with the threat of not having enough Vincristine. We as a nation should have a plan in place for this type of situation to ensure that a sufficient amount of life-saving drugs are always available for children and vulnerable populations,” said Rep. Kim Schrier, M.D. (WA-08).
“When parents are faced with their child’s cancer diagnosis, the last thing they should have to worry about is an unnecessary drug shortage complicating their treatment,” said Rep. Angie Craig (MN-02). ”I’m proud to be partnering with Reps. Axne and Gonzalez to hold Health and Human Services accountable so they do everything they can to ensure another shortage of lifesaving drugs does not occur.”
“Patients with devastating illnesses suffer enough; the last thing they need is uncertainty about whether they’ll receive their dose of life-saving medications. After hearing from patients and care providers from Central Ohio, I was eager to send this letter to Secretary Azar addressing the looming shortage of a vital pediatric cancer medication,” said Rep. Troy Balderson (OH-12).
The letter asks HHS to evaluate their response to the drug shortage of vincristine and provide information on steps the agency is taking to anticipate and prevent future shortages of life-saving drugs.
Read the full letter here.