'Very scary': Mum's devastating search for life-saving medicine

·6-min read

Mum-of-four Karina Andrijic has shared the scary waiting game she was recently trapped in for eight weeks as she waited to get her hands on vital health equipment for her daughter.

Two years ago, Karina discovered her daughter Ajla was anaphylactic to eggs, cashew nuts and pistachio nuts.

Like most mums of kids with allergies, she keeps her EpiPen Jnr with her at all times and relies on the life-saving medication in case of an emergency.

But for the eight weeks, the mum from Sydney's Northern Beaches has been trying to get her child’s expired EpiPen Jnr replaced and after weeks of searching, she’s been left empty-handed.

“It truly is unbelievable that a life-saving medical device can not be purchased with ease,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

She finally got a call from a pharmacy this week saying her wait was over, but that was after weeks of stress and worry.

When her daughter’s EpiPen was about to expire she visited her allergist for a script to replace it, only to be told by pharmacists there weren’t any available.

Karina and Ajla smile for a photo.
Karina Andrijic has been searching for a replacement EpiPen Jnr for her daughter Ajla for weeks. Source: Supplied

“Last year I had no problem at all, I just went into the chemist and passed over the script and it was all there. But not this time,” she said.

“I explained that her EpiPen is out of date and asked what should I do, she’s anaphylactic. The chemist told me there’s nothing they can do and they don’t know when we are getting any in, possibly July or August.”

Not giving up, Karina went on an extensive search and even reached out to friends in other areas for help.

“I tried quite a few chemists who all said no and I thought ok, this is really bad,” she said.

“I then started looking outside the beaches and asked my friends who live in Bossley Park, Bella Vista, and Granville and they all started asking their friends for me too and the same thing - no one had anything in stock.

Two photos of Ajla Andrijic.
Ajla is anaphylactic to eggs, cashew nuts, and pistachio nuts. Source: Supplied

“I even asked my sister in Melbourne if she could ask for me and send it up to me in the mail but they don’t have any there either.”

As a last resort, she called Royal North Shore Hospital who referred her back to her pharmacist. Eventually, Karina was told to just stop looking.

“One pharmacist finally told me to stop searching and just get on the waitlists because they all have the same suppliers everywhere,” she said.

Karina had been on four waiting lists at different chemists across Sydney including Woollahra, Chatswood, Willoughby, and Frenchs Forest.

Worried and seemingly out of options, Karina went back to her daughter’s allergist for advice on what to do and was told this situation is “going on everywhere”.

Anaphylaxis Auto injector slipping out of a woman’s handbag.
The supply of EpiPen Jr has been impacted since February 2020 with parents still unable to get their hands on one. Source: File photo

She was able to get a two-month extension to ensure her EpiPens were in date for daycare — as children with out-of-date medication can not attend — and was told she can use the EpiPen for up to two months after the expiry only or until the serum inside starts to look cloudy.

The excruciating waiting game was constantly playing on Karina’s mind as she kept a very watchful eye over her daughter.

“It’s very scary. You just don’t know what can happen,” she says.

Why is there an EpiPen shortage?

An update on the supply of EpiPen Jnr by Viatris — the company that manufactures the device — on the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) website stated in early June that there was a “three day limited supply due to an unprecedented increase in demand”.

It said new stock would be distributed from June 3. But on June 16 another update said the demand was still high.

“With long-dated EpiPen Junior autoinjectors now available in Australia, Viatris has seen an unprecedented demand for the product at pharmacy level in the last two months,” the statement said.

“Demand has been up to three-fold the normal levels, and as a result, Viatris has taken the responsible position and action to temporarily limit supply of bulk orders into the market. This will help to ensure longevity of supply.”

A package of EpiPen Jr. epinephrine injectors.
While the company that manufactures EpiPen Jr says there is no shortage of supply, pharmacies are still saying they have no stock. Source: Getty Images

Dr Monica Faulk, a medical specialist in Allergy and Immunology, says she’s been receiving six to eight phone calls from panicked parents since October.

After contacting Viatris directly, Dr Faulk was told there was an ample supply of EpiPen Jr with a 17-month expiry, but desperate parents kept calling.

“The phone calls continued at much the same rate with distressed parents ringing saying they were unable to get an EpiPen Jnr as the pharmacy was telling them there was no stock,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

While Viatris maintains there’s ample supply, communication to pharmacies on how to get that supply hasn’t been made clear.

“There currently is no shortage according to the company rep and marketing manager but there is poor communication from the company to the pharmacists,” Dr Faulk said

“Shortages occur because of production issues or an insufficient supply is ordered by the importer - having only one adrenaline autoinjector means that any issue with production or supply causes a shortage - a second EpiPen injector, the AnaPen, is to be available from September and hopefully that will prevent further shortages and stress.”

What parents should do

Dr Nelu, a Paediatric Doctor, agrees there is definitely a short supply of EpiPens from pharmacies, but the PBS are still giving doctors the authority numbers to prescribe.

“The short supply of EpiPens can be very stressful for parents. Allergic reactions can be very frightening for parents. Particularly if their child suffers from anaphylaxis, having an EpiPen can be life-saving,” Dr Nelu says.

“So not having this medication on hand at all times can be understandably very anxiety-provoking.”

Smiling pharmacist checking medical sample while talking to a woman at checkout.
Doctors have advised parents to keep looking for an in date EpiPen at their local chemist until they are able to find one. Source: Getty

If parents can’t get their hands on a new EpiPen after the used by date Dr Nelu says parents should keep ringing around and try to get one.

“If there is none available, it may be worth having an antihistamine on them at all times. This may be all that is needed for a mild reaction or may help even slightly with symptoms in anaphylaxis until the ambulance arrives,” she says.

“If a child is showing symptoms of anaphylaxis and there is no EpiPen handy, then call the ambulance immediately.

“I would urge parents whose children may not need an EpiPen (e.g. they prefer it as a "just in case" measure or they haven't been diagnosed with anaphylaxis by an Allergist or Emergency Doctor) to please leave the short supply for those who are in desperate need of it.”

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