Chemotherapy shortage affects mid-Missouri children

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COLUMBIA - A drug company's decision is causing new worries for the families of children with cancer.

Vincristine, a type of chemotherapy used as treatment in most childhood cancers, is becoming scarce and there is no equivalent to the drug. 

The shortage comes after one of the two supply companies of vincristine discontinued the drug in July due to a business decision. Now the sole supplier, Pfizer, is having manufacturing troubles.

Lauren Brengarth, mother of 6-year-old Emma who has Ewing sarcoma, said she is frustrated. 

"To hear that a business decision is the reason why my daughter or any other child with cancer can't receive their chemotherapy is absolutely unacceptable and outrageous," she said.

Emma was diagnosed earlier this year in August on her first day of first grade. Her scheduled chemotherapy lasts until this spring. 

Brengarth said she believes all children should have access to their medicine.

"I think we need to look at this from a business perspective and politically to understand where are the gaps and how is this even possible that a child with cancer couldn't receive his or her chemotherapy as prescribed when it is available," she said.

Emma is on schedule to receive her vincristine in early November. Brengarth said she hopes it does not get delayed. 

Lauren Karr, mother of 3-year-old Beckett who has acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), said she is worried her son won't receive his regular dosage this month. 

"In two weeks I may go all the way to Kansas City for his treatment and he may only get half of it," she said. 

Beckett was diagnosed with ALL in August of 2018. He has a mutation which causes the cancer to be more likely to come back, because of this he was invited into a clinical trial. After year of weekly hospital visits, Beckett is now in maintenance where he goes once a month to receive treatment. Vincristine is one of the drugs he receives monthly. 

"It terrifies me to think that at some point if he doesn't get this drug, the trial will be useless," Karr said.

Karr said the shortage has caused more stress and less sleep for her family.

"It's just that extra anxiety as a parent every night going to bed knowing there's this drug out there and it is helping your kiddo, but he can't get it," she said.

Karr said it could be until December until her son gets his vincristine. 

MU Health Care Women and Children's Hospital is one Mid-Missouri hospital being affected by the shortage. In a statement to KOMU 8 News it said, "We are actively evaluating short- and long-term strategies so we can continue to provide exceptional care to our patients should the shortage continue beyond our current expectation."