U.S. reports 1st COVID-19-related drug shortage

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U.S. Secretary of Health Alexander Azar provided an update on the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. saying the risk remains low, but the "degree of risk has the potential to change quickly and we can expect to see more cases in the United States." – Feb 26, 2020

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced its first drug shortage related to COVID-19, while Canada says it’s closely monitoring its stock of medical supplies and equipment.

FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement that the shortage was related to an unnamed human drug and was caused by an issue with the manufacturer.

“The shortage is due to an issue with manufacturing of an active pharmaceutical ingredient used in the drug,” Hahn said in a statement Thursday night. “It is important to note that there are other alternatives that can be used by patients. We are working with the manufacturer as well as other manufacturers to mitigate the shortage.”

READ MORE: Is Canada ready for a widespread coronavirus outbreak? Yes and no, experts say

The FDA has identified 20 drugs that solely source their active pharmaceutical ingredients or produce finished drug products from China

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The agency said it has been in touch with 180 manufacturers to remind them that the companies have a regulatory obligation to notify the FDA if they anticipate any disruption to drug supplies.

Companies have been asked by the FDA to evaluate their supply chains in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The novel coronavirus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in early December and has since spread overseas to at least 46 counties, with South Korea, Italy and Iran seeing huge spikes in the number of cases.

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global health emergency and said it has the potential for a “pandemic.”

“We’re at a decisive point,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Thursday. “For the past two days, the number of new cases reported in the rest of the world has exceeded the number of new cases reported from China.”

There are 82,000 confirmed infections globally, including 14 confirmed cases in Canada, and more than 2,800 deaths, with all but 57 in China, according to the latest WHO data. South Korea, Italy and Iran are currently seeing surges in cases.

New countries announcing cases include Nigeria and Mexico. Both cases are linked to travellers from Italy.

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Canada’s chief public health officer Theresa Tam said Thursday that federal and provincial officials are working to evaluate the inventories of medical supplies and equipment needed to adequately respond to a coronavirus pandemic.

“As a result of the changing landscape because of COVID-19, we are pulling together that kind of information right now,” she said. “Of course, we have to adapt to changes in the evolution of the outbreak in order to fine-tune some of these estimates. But that’s the kind of exercise that is being undertaken right now.”

Tam also said health officials will begin actively looking for COVID-19 cases in communities, as mounting evidence suggests that the virus could soon start spreading more freely across the country.

“We have a existing surveillance systems already in gear in terms of general respiratory virus surveillance,” Tam said. “But we are actively having conversations right now with provinces and territories on some of the next steps,”

Officials didn’t offer details on when the new surveillance systems would start.

READ MORE: Countries around the world step up their response to COVID-19 as cases rise daily

Health experts who spoke with Global News say Canada has all the necessities to fight a widespread disease outbreak, including negative-pressure isolation chambers, supplies, medical procedures and assessment protocol

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Dr. Alan Drummond, co-chair of public affairs for the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians and emergency physician at the Perth, Ont., hospital, said Canada learned a lot of “hard-earned lessons” from the SARS outbreak in 2003.

His concerns, he said, were with whether Canada would have the space available to take care of its infected.

Drummond said the safe occupancy rate for any hospital is deemed to be around 85 per cent, which provides “wiggle room” or a surge capacity in case of a sudden outbreak or increased demand for health-care services.

—With a file from Emerald Bensadoun

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