Winter travellers looking to escape the cold by landing in a hot destination might be opening themselves up to health risks as hepatitis vaccine supplies dwindle across the country.
A nation-wide shortage of Twinrix, a popular vaccine used to prevent both hepatitis A and B, was reported months ago by Canada’s mandatory drug shortage and discontinuation reporting website.
Becca Matthews is a pharmacist at five different pharmacies in Saskatoon and said she has had to turn away customers looking for Twinrix.
“The first option is to basically phone around to every single pharmacy and see if they have any stock from before the shortage,” Matthews said. “That was working for a bit, but now (Twinrix) is all used up.”
She said pharmacies were able to handle the shortage by using Twinrix Junior, a half dose meant for children. But that plan eventually failed once they ran out of it.
“What we were doing was ordering in double the Twinrix Junior and giving people two of those,” she said. “That worked for a while, but now Twinrix Junior is on backorder.”
Depending on travel plans, experts argue that a dual vaccination isn’t always necessary. Since hepatitis B is often transmitted sexually, it might not be necessary for a one-week trip to Cuba or the Dominican Republic.
Matthews said that was the other option presented to customers.
“I’ve also been seeing some patients go to their doctor and get prescriptions for the Havrix vaccine,” she said. “Unfortunately, they’re still not getting the hepatitis B vaccination, but they are covering the hepatitis A vaccination.”
A vaccine like Havrix will protect people from contaminated water, ice and food, common ways of contracting hepatitis A while abroad.
Matthews suggests travelers be diligent and do things like drinking bottled water during the duration of the trip.
As for now, pharmacists across the country are waiting for the day when Twinrix will be back on the shelves.
“We don’t know when this (shortage) is going to be over,” Matthews said. “As of right now, our distributor basically says the manufacturer cannot supply. They do not have an availability date.”
“We unfortunately don’t know how much longer this is going to last, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was still months away.”