Joanne Henry’s eight-year-old son Jacob is allergic to nuts, shellfish and legumes and carries an EpiPen with him to school in case he has a severe reaction.
But she’s worried what will happen when his current EpiPen expires – he’s due to move up soon from the child dosage to the full adult dosage, which is currently not available in many Canadian pharmacies.
WATCH: EpiPen shortage: What you need to know about sending your kids back to school
“Unfortunately, when I reached out to our local drugstore, there’s a shortage and there are no adult EpiPens to be found,” she said at her home in King City, north of Toronto.
When she called Jacob’s daycare to ask what she should do if he didn’t have a current EpiPen, they told her that kids without a valid, non-expired EpiPen wouldn’t be allowed in the daycare, she said.
She even asked Ontario’s education ministry, and she says she heard the same: no EpiPen, no school.
People are aware of the current EpiPen shortage, which started months ago and is expected to be even worse throughout August, but Henry doesn’t think that school boards have thought through its implications.
“I just don’t think people have connected the dots,” she said.
School boards are required to have policies to address students with allergies, said Heather Irwin, spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Education. Students are expected to have a Plan of Care in place, the details of which are worked out between their parents and the school according to their medical needs.
“There is no Ministry of Education policy that restricts access to school, based on children having an outdated EpiPen,” she said. She encourages parents to contact their local school board for more information.
WATCH: This is why there’s an EpiPen shortage, according to Health Canada
The Toronto District School Board won’t require students to stay home if they don’t have a valid EpiPen, said spokesperson Ryan Bird.
“Our schools have EpiPens in the main office.”
“Because the school provides an EpiPen in the main office, a child not having an EpiPen wouldn’t be a requirement to end school because we have them in the office,” he said.
Global News reached out to Henry’s school board, the York Region Catholic District School Board, but has yet to receive a response.
WATCH: Mother of child with anaphylaxis told son can’t attend school with expired EpiPen. Caryn Lieberman reports.
What to do
According to Food Allergy Canada, an advocacy group for food allergy sufferers, parents of kids with expiring EpiPens should as a first step still check pharmacies for refills.
“First and foremost, we recommend that all parents go to their local pharmacy and others in their area to see if there is a device available,” said Beatrice Povolo, Director of Advocacy and Media Relations for Food Allergy Canada.
“Our understanding is that there is some limited supply however they’re not available en masse as we know. So definitely check to make sure if there is something available that they can get.”
If you can’t find one, you should hang on to recently-expired devices, she said. “These can be used in case of emergency until they get their new ones replaced.”
WATCH: Pharmacist Kelly Kizlyk discusses the EpiPen shortage and the impact on those who might need to use the live-saving device during an allergic reaction.
Povolo believes that schools should still allow students to attend, even if their EpiPens are past the expiry date — even if they normally require parents to provide an up-to-date device.
“In the interim during this very unique situation that we find ourselves in, we need the schools to help support the students and understand that having a recently-expired device is appropriate at this point if they’re not able to bring one that is in-date.”
She also thinks that schools should review their existing allergy precautions and figure out whether there is anything they can temporarily do to tighten them while the shortage is ongoing.
Henry would like Health Canada and government ministries to make clear that this is a special situation and some leniency is necessary.
“I just don’t think people have connected the dots. I know Pfizer has said you can use an outdated EpiPen but I don’t know if that’s the reality, if a school would accept that,” she said.
A government message would help to make everything clear, she said.
“I think if Health Canada was just to come out and speak across the country to the respective Ministries of Education and let them know how to handle this, because I just think when I phoned, when I reached out to people, it hadn’t dawned on anybody and they hadn’t really connected the dots. That was a surprise.”
The extreme shortage is expected to end at the end of August, according to Health Canada, though the EpiPens are still expected to be in short supply for months after that.
— With files from Caryn Lieberman, Global Toronto