A nationwide shortage of a lifesaving drug is forcing doctors to change treatment plans for children in need and ration doses based on who is in the worst shape.
It's called immune globulin, also known as IVIG, and it's used to boost the immune systems of leukemia patients and those with immunodeficiency disorders.
Investigative reporter Karla Ray spoke to local families who have seen the impact firsthand and are worried for their kids' lives.
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We first met Andrew Pogar and his family in October, amid the family's fight to keep the Brevard County second-grader's privately paid registered behavior technician in his classroom. This week, he received a 20-hour infusion of a drug essentially keeping his immune system alive.
"His immune system (is) attacking his brain, and as a result, he's had to go through multiple lines of therapy," Andrew's father, Jonathan Pogar, said.
Andrew has a type of autoimmune encephalitis. So does Lowry Messer, who travels to Orlando every month for similar treatment.
"It's absolutely a matter of life and death," Lowry's mother, Laurel Messer said.
Both receive infusions of IVIG to boost antibodies and help them fight off illnesses. It's used by thousands of patients with autoimmune deficiencies, cancers and other diseases, and there is now a nationwide shortage.
"We don't yet know, month to month, will he get it, will he not get it, we just don't know," Messer said.
The Food and Drug Administration announced the shortage of the drug in August, noting it could impact patient care. It's an impact the Messer family would have felt firsthand, if not for a personal supply of IVIG.
"We would have had, the last two months, a lapse in treatment," Messer said. "The hospital we were treating with, they could not get it. There just was not any to get. I told them, 'Look, I randomly have these two bottles at home.'"
Immune globulin is derived from donor plasma, and though the FDA acknowledges that hospital and medical systems have lowered doses, delayed treatments and prioritized treatment based on the seriousness of medical conditions, the FDA cannot force drugmakers to produce more.
"It's pretty alarming," Pogar said.
Right now, the Pogar family takes Andrew for 20-hour infusions of IVIG every month, but as the supply dwindles, both families worry.
"That's honestly something his mom and I don't want to think about," Pogar said. "The immune system can basically shut down, and you end up in an ICU unit, who knows."
This comes down to supply and demand. Though there has been an increase in the supply of IVIG products in the last few years, the demand has simply outpaced it.
The FDA is working with manufacturers to improve the yield of IVIG products, but the shortage is expected to last for at least a year.
Cox Media Group