EpiPen Shortage In UK Risks 'Life And Death' Situation - Advice For Allergy Sufferers

Check expiry dates, re-order prescriptions early and be extra cautious around food.

Allergy sufferers are being advised to take extra precautions around their health, due to an EpiPen shortage in the UK.

The adrenaline jab’s manufacturer Mylan announced it is experiencing supply problems and, as a result, the life-saving products are being restricted at UK pharmacies. The EpiPen 0.3mg (Senior) Adrenaline Auto-Injector is now available on a prescription-only basis and patients can place orders for a maximum of two at a time. EpiPens for children, which contain 0.15mg of adrenaline, are not affected.

Pharmacists have reported stock shortages and delays in locating EpiPens, which could be the difference between “life and death” for patients with severe allergies. The UK is the latest to be hit by the global shortage, which has caused similar problems in Australia and Canada.

In response of the news, Allergy UK has told HuffPost UK sufferers should check the expiry date on their EpiPen, re-order prescriptions in good time and be extra cautious around food that could potentially contain allergens to avoid an EpiPen being needed.

EpiPens reverse symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis. They work by releasing adrenaline which narrows blood vessels, so a person experiencing anaphylaxis begins to feel their blood pressure return to normal. This relaxes the lungs and throat and makes it easier to breathe.

Holly Shaw, nurse advisor at Allergy UK, advises patients to check the expiry date on their EpiPen and order a replacement “well in advance” of the date. She recommends registering for expiry reminder services when the injector is issued or making a diary alert in your phone. EpiPen Senior expires after 20 months. However, by the time injections reach a pharmacy, this time is usually reduced.

But due to the shortages, some pharmacies are experiencing shortages - so you may need to visit more than one. “Discuss with the pharmacist on how quickly the item may be next available,” Shaw advises. “Make an informed decision on whether this aligns with the existing adrenaline auto injector’s expiry date.”

Thorrun Geovind, a pharmacist based in Bolton, told The Telegraph she had to call eight pharmacies before she could track down an EpiPen for a patient due to go on holiday later that day. “We shouldn’t have to do this, it’s a life and death situation. People are potentially going to have to change devices.” she said.

If your pharmacist is unable to locate an EpiPen, you may need to consider an alternative adrenaline injector. While Mylan’s EpiPen is the most commonly used in the UK, there are two others available: Jext, produced by Danish firm ALK-Abelló, and Emerade, produced by US company Bausch + Lomb. ALK told the Telegraph while it is trying to produce more injectors to cover some of the shortfall, it has a “relatively small market share”.

But before you switch brands, Shaw warned patients to speak to the healthcare professional who prescribed the medication. “It is important to be aware that each device looks different and has a different way in being administered. Ensure you are trained in the use of a newly issued adrenaline auto-injector,” she said.

To avoid needing to use an auto-injector in the first place, Shaw recommends taking the following steps:

:: Communicate known food allergens clearly and consistently when eating out - (Allergy UK’s translation card service is useful for when language barriers may be a problem).
:: Read ingredient labels before eating or preparing a food or ask what is contained in a food prepared by another person.
:: Know the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction and what to do to treat those symptoms. Only severe symptoms require the use of an adrenaline auto- injector device.

In a statement on the EpiPen UK website, Mylan said it is experiencing a shortage of supplies to due manufacturing delays at its supplier, fellow US pharmaceutical company Pfizer. “Pfizer anticipates that production rates will increase over the coming months; however, at this time, cannot commit to a specific time for when the supply constraint will be fully resolved,” it said.

Pfizer said in a statement: “We understand how important this potentially life-saving product is to patients, and we are working tirelessly to increase production and expedite shipments as rapidly as possible by addressing component supply shortages and certain process changes which have temporarily constrained capacity at our manufacturing facility.”