Chemo drug shortage has families of children with cancer scrambling

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. — A critical drug for treating childhood cancer is in short-supply, leaving Tampa Bay area families and physicians scrambling.

The nationwide shortage comes after Teva Pharmaceuticals, one of the drug’s manufacturers, made a “business decision” to discontinue making it. The FDA announced the discontinuation in July.

Vincristine does not have alternatives, leaving hospitals with limited resources and limited options.

Anthony and Jocelyn Gaulin of Brandon learned Wednesday that their five-year-old Caleb would not be receiving his scheduled dose of Vincristine scheduled for this coming Monday at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa.

Caleb was diagnosed with stage four Burkitt’s lymphoma in July, an aggressive form of pediatric cancer. The unexpected diagnosis came after Caleb experienced persistent swelling in one eye, something his parents thought was as benign as allergies.

“He went from no cancer in his body to stage four with a period of 3-4 weeks,” Anthony Gaulin explained.

Caleb’s been fighting his cancer with high doses of chemotherapy since July. His parents credit Vincristine for keeping the cancer at bay, with remission expected soon if he continues improving at this same rate.

That’s why his parents are fighting to get him that last scheduled dose of Vincristine.

“If there’s one cell left behind, that can manifest and turn in 30-40 cells by the end of a 24 hour period,” Jocelyn Gaulin said.

A notice on the FDA’s website shows the shortage could last until January, as other companies scramble to supply.

“This is a bigger problem than just Caleb,” Anthony Gaulin said. “All the kids need to get this treatment.”

As the Gaulins frantically call other area hospitals to inquire about the Vincristine supply, they’re also calling their elected officials, asking for answers and accountability.

“That’s a breakdown in the system when we’re talking about livelihoods and especially children,” Anthony Gaulin said. “This is something that needs to be addressed.”

St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital gave 8 On Your Side this statement Wednesday night:

This is a very difficult situation and we are doing absolutely everything we can for our patients with the limited resources of Vincristine available. We are working with our staff and patients to continue a treatment plan with the resources we do have. Sometimes when there are national shortages there are alternative drugs, however this is unfortunately a situation where there isn’t really an alternative to Vincristine. Our hearts go out to the families and caregivers here and across the country who are dealing with this national shortage.

8 On Your Side is still working to determine what other local hospitals, if any, are experiencing the same drug shortage.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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