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Advocacy Patient stories

IG Shortage is Coming

Walter “Kip” Caro started noticing tingling, numbness, and pain in his feet back in 2007. Gradually these symptoms progressed up his legs and into his body to the point where he had to be hospitalized because his torso was affected and he couldn’t breathe. It took three years for doctors to diagnose him with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP). In that time, Kip suffered permanent nerve damage in his feet.

For the last 11 years, however, Kip has been treated with intravenous immune globulin (IVIG), which has worked like a charm. He never has to worry about his symptoms, unless he can’t get his treatments every three weeks. If he doesn’t, as happened last June when there was a shortage and his infusion center couldn’t get immune globulin (IG) products from their distributor, his disease starts to relapse.

“It was scary,” he says of this experience.

“Over the years, we’ve met people said they could make a change to their treatment schedule, and their symptoms would not be affected,” says Kip’s wife Bonnie Joslin. “But we’ve learned, for Kip, his body just can’t do that.”

Kip feels lucky that Bonnie is such an advocate for him. By the time his infusion center called and told him they weren’t able to get his medication, Bonnie had already been reading about other patients’ experiences online. She immediately contacted Michelle Vogel, who administers a Facebook page for people who depend on IG therapy. Michelle, who also serves as vice president for patient advocacy at CSI Pharmacy, was able to get Kip hooked up with home infusions within a week.

“He was already starting to relapse,” Bonnie says. “But Michelle pushed it through, and Natalie Edwards in the insurance department worked to get approval. I know it wasn’t easy, but it was like a miracle happened.”

By early 2021, however, nearly all IG manufacturers expect to see shortages again. This time it’s because pandemic shutdowns earlier in the spring have decreased plasma donations. Plasma is the raw material from which IG and other protein therapies are made. The manufacturing process takes seven to nine months to create IG from donated plasma, so unlike last year’s shortage, this time we know it’s coming and can be prepared.

When IG products are in short supply, rationing will happen, Michelle says. “When the market tightens and we have shortages, what tends to happen is that certain sites of care like hospitals may stop treating outpatients. If they do treat outpatients, they will limit treatment to primary immune deficiency, Kawasaki disease, and transplant patients.”

That’s because supplies of IG are not universally distributed. Hospitals and infusion centers have contracts with certain manufacturers or distributors, so they can only get specific brands. Last year, patients like Kip who were served by these sites of care sometimes found their treatments delayed or dropped completely.

Specialty pharmacies like CSI Pharmacy that offer home infusion services, however, have access to more brands of IVIG as well as subcutaneous immune globulin (SCIG). In 2019, CSI Pharmacy was able to work with patients, their healthcare providers, and their insurance plans to allow them to continue IG treatment in the home.

At times this meant switching to a different brand of IVIG when certain brands were not available. Some patients even switched to subcutaneous (meaning under the skin) infusion after being on the intravenous (IV) form.

While changing to a different product can be scary for patients who have confidence in a brand of IG that is working well for them, please be assured that  a switch can be relatively comfortable if you work closely with your doctor and pharmacist. The pharmacist can find a brand that is close in formulation to your current brand, for example. If side effects become a problem, the infusion rate can be reduced and pre-medications prescribed. 

If you depend on IG therapy, now is the time to prepare. We suggest you have a conversation with your provider and current site of care.

  • Ask your provider what other brands are good options if your brand is in short supply, and ask your care site if they are able to obtain one of these brands if needed.
  • Ask the site of care if they will prioritize patients if there is a shortage. Will it be based on disease, IgG levels, and/or rationing product by the number of grams or frequency?
  • Ask how the site of care handled past shortages.

If it turns out that your site of care does not prioritize patients with your disease or they are unable to obtain your brand of IG, you may want to consider how important is it to you that you continue IG therapy. (Some patients feel comfortable skipping their treatment for a month or two if it means they don’t have to make changes.)

If you’re like Kip, however, and can’t function without regular IG infusions, you’ll need to think about what options are available to enable you to access this treatment. Are you willing to switch brands? Are you willing to move to home infusion? Are you willing to switch to SCIG?

If home infusion becomes your alternative, we urge patients to make that move now. Specialty pharmacies are more flexible and were less affected during the last shortage, but that may not be the case this time.

If you are a patient of a specialty pharmacy when this crisis hits, you may be able to get access to IG since they do not ration based on disease and have access to more brands. However, we do not know how the shortage will affect sites of care. 

“We want to see all patients have access to all brands in their preferred site of care,” Michelle says. “But we just don’t know what the impact is going to be. We expect this shortage will be across all manufacturers. Patients should understand that this is not going to be a perfect scenario. You may still run into hurdles like access to your preferred brand.”

CSI Pharmacy’s patient advocates are available to discuss your options related to IG therapy, regardless of whether or not you are our patient. If we can’t service your needs, we will gladly help you find other resources. No patient should suffer alone.

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Health Information

Get Your Flu Shot Now

For some, getting a flu shot is just part of the fall routine every year. Immunization against the virus that causes influenza prevents millions of people from getting the disease, makes the disease less severe if you do get it, and can prevent death from severe disease and its complications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza causes an estimated 12,000 to 61,000 deaths every year in this country.

This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians and public health officials say it’s even more important that everyone over the age of six months get a flu shot. This is especially important if you have an underlying health condition that makes you more at risk for developing complications if you get the flu. While the influenza vaccine will not prevent you from getting COVID-19 (researchers are still working on a vaccine for this different virus), it will help you avoid getting seriously sick with or—heaven forbid—dying from the flu. And the fewer people who get the flu, the more it saves healthcare resources that are still urgently needed for treating COVID-19 patients.

Those who are at high risk for flu complications are also at greater risk for getting COVID-19 and having serious outcomes. If you have an autoimmune condition or immune deficiency disease, such as myositis, myasthenia gravis, pemphigus and pemphigoid, chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), and primary immunodeficiency (PI), this means you. You are at a much greater risk for getting sick with the flu and at greater risk for developing complications like pneumonia if you do. If you have heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, getting the flu can also make these conditions worse.

Getting the flu vaccine, however, is not a straightforward decision for some who have these conditions. For example, some people with a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) may have developed this form of muscle paralysis after receiving an influenza immunization. According to the GBS|CIDP Foundation International, the association between GBS and flu vaccines is inconclusive, but they suggest these individuals avoid the vaccine in the future. If you have had GBS, especially if it developed four to six weeks after getting a flu shot, you should talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of getting the vaccine again.

Another consideration is the aerosol form of the flu vaccine. This is a live attenuated (weakened) influenza vaccine that is given through the nose. While the injected vaccines are made with inactivated virus, the nasal spray is made with live organisms that have been weakened but are still able to activate the body’s immune response against the disease.

The intranasal vaccine is not recommended for those younger than two, older than 50, or those who have a weakened immune system, including some patients who take immune suppressing medications. If you care for or live with someone who is immune compromised, you should also avoid the nasal spray. And if you have an underlying medical condition that puts you at risk for developing severe complications from the flu (such as chronic lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disorders, neurologic and neuromuscular disorders, blood disorders, and diabetes), it’s important to check with your physician before taking the nasal flu vaccine.

According to the Immune Deficiency Foundation, those with certain forms of immune deficiency (common variable immune deficiency [CVID], severe combined immune deficiency [SCID] or Bruton’s agammaglobulinemia) are unable to develop protective immunity following vaccination. This means their bodies don’t have the infrastructure to develop the immunity needed to keep them from getting sick, so vaccines will not do them any good. In fact, for individuals with these forms of PI, live vaccines—including the influenza nasal spray—may put them in danger of developing severe disease.

The only reason not to get a flu shot is if you have a severe, life-threatening allergy to the vaccine or any of its ingredients. This might include gelatin, certain antibiotics, or other ingredients. If you get hives when you eat eggs, studies have shown that most times you can still get the flu shot. If you have a more serious reaction to eggs or you are worried about this, you should of course talk with your doctor. Egg-free alternative vaccines are available.

The CDC has more information about seasonal influenza and how to prevent it.

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Health Information Patient communities

Get Connected

When a person has a rare disease, they often feel isolated, confused, afraid, and hopeless. Living with a chronic medical condition that no one around you has ever heard of let alone understands is a challenge on many levels. With rare diseases especially, even health care professionals often don’t understand the disease well, which can add to your confusion and fear. Combine that with the challenges and isolation of COVID-19 confinement, and you may find you’re wading knee deep in serious hot water with mental health issues.

Those who care for someone who is diagnosed with a chronic, debilitating, and mysterious disease can also be devastated. Often you must sacrifice your own goals and dreams in order to attend to the needs of your loved one. Depression is common in caregivers who often suffer in silence, unwilling to reveal their own negative feelings.

Connecting with a support group can be a tremendous help, however. Such groups can be an important source of both emotional encouragement and practical advice. Benefits can include:

  1. Meeting and making friends with other people who live with the same rare disease and similar experiences
  2. Learning about the disease and how it is treated
  3. Being able to talk honestly about your disease and your feelings about it with others who “get it”
  4. Learning how others cope with the challenges of the disease
  5. Developing hope and a sense of empowerment that you can make it through the challenges

Formal patient support organizations often expand their reach to include advocating to improve healthcare for other rare disease patients, supporting scientific research, and providing financial assistance to members.

CSI Pharmacy wants our patients to thrive, despite their health challenges. That’s why we connect with a number of groups that support the patient communities we serve. These are all nonprofit organizations, and CSI Pharmacy supports them financially so they can support our patients and caregivers. We encourage our patients to reach out to one or more of the following groups, especially at this time of uncertainty during the COVID lockdown:

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Patient stories

Stay Home

When Katherine Holt hears about people who are eager to end pandemic precautions she is outraged. Katherine is among those who are at highest risk from COVID-19 infection, not just because of her age: 76. She has chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), an autoimmune disease that makes it hard for her to walk because of damage to the nerves in her legs.

For those like Katherine who live with autoimmune diseases or other chronic illnesses that put them at risk, one of their greatest fears is that people will start to relax coronavirus restrictions like social distancing and gathering in groups. They’re afraid this will increase COVID-19 cases and that vulnerable people like themselves will get sick.

“I just want to jump through the TV when I see people saying we don’t need to stay home,” she says. “It’s not time to lighten up, because it’s just going to make this pandemic longer, and more people will die.”

Katherine knows what she’s talking about. Until she retired, she worked most of her life as a nurse. She also started her career in the US Air Force. Between the two, she still feels a great deal of respect for authority and duty—an authority based on science and a duty to keep people healthy.

So Katherine is sticking to stay-at-home orders. She lives in Jonesboro, Arkansas with her sister Gloria and their four-legged family: four cats and two dogs. Katherine is grateful that her sister is so strict about making sure she is not exposed to coronavirus or other infections.

“In the beginning, my sister and I—she’s 67—looked at each other and we decided between the two of us I was the one at highest risk since I have CIDP,” Katherine says.

Gloria orders ahead and uses drive-through services at the grocery store and pharmacy. Anything that comes into the house sits in the garage for several hours before being brought inside. Then Gloria pulls on gloves and wipes everything down with alcohol or bleach before placing it in the pantry or refrigerator. In a fallback from Katherine’s days as a nurse, they even have a transition area between the outside (dirty) and the inside (clean) where they do the disinfecting.

Katherine had two doctor appointments scheduled during April, one with her PCP, the other with her neurologist. Both were routine checkups, and she was feeling fine, so she canceled them. She will call if she needs medication refills and reschedule when the pandemic precautions are lifted.

One thing she has not canceled is her IVIG therapy. She’s been receiving monthly treatments since 2008 and getting her infusions at home for about four years now. It’s the main thing that keeps her able to walk.

Katherine’s first infusions were done in a hospital. “I had to be there at 7 o’clock in the morning, and I was there all day. I got back home about six or seven at night, because they were giving it to me really slowly and checking all the vital signs and everything very frequently.”

When the hospital canceled her infusions several times in a row, she was getting a little desperate. She happened to have an appointment with her neurologist shortly after a representative from CSI Pharmacy had stopped by, talking about home infusion. The doctor put in the order, and three days later—on a weekend—Katherine was getting her infusion at home. Now with social distancing, home infusion makes even more sense.

“I think home infusion is the way to go,” she says. “It’s everything you could want. They made it all really easy. And I enjoy when they come, because finally I have another nurse to talk to.”

Ever the nurse, however, Katherine wants to educate the public about what it means to people like her for the country to flatten the curve.

“I just wish I could help other people understand how important it is to stay at home,” she says. “I’m praying people will see reason. If they draw on their good conscience, hopefully they’ll be able to say, oh, maybe we shouldn’t go back to business as usual just now.”

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Health Information

Telemedicine How-to

As coronavirus control measures keep us at home, many in our patient communities may be worried about how they can access needed health care. In addition to symptoms that might be COVID-19, people still need ongoing care for their myositis, myasthenia gravis, CIDP, and other chronic conditions even during the pandemic. And of course there will still be concerns about injuries, tick bites, allergies, and other everyday needs.

Fortunately, telemedicine is emerging as a way for patients to get the care they need without having to visit the doctor’s office, urgent care clinic, or emergency room. During the COVID-19 crisis, regulations and payment policies are being relaxed to allow access to care remotely, so you don’t have to risk exposure to coronavirus infection. Remote visits allow you to discuss your healthcare issues in real time with your healthcare provider by phone, email, video chat, or through your provider’s patient portal.

If you contact your provider and he or she recommends a virtual visit, here are some ways you can prepare ahead of time so you can make the most of this opportunity:

  • Take care of the routine requests. If you need medication refills or paperwork for your employer or insurance plan, you can ask the office staff for this over the phone or manage it through the patient portal. You may not even need a visit with the provider for this.
  • Check with your insurance plan. Many insurance plans are providing coverage for telemedicine services. It’s best to give them a call ahead of time, however, just to be sure your visit will be covered.
  • List your medical concerns. Write down the two or three issues you want to be sure to discuss during the virtual visit, so you don’t forget the important things. (It’s a good idea to do this with in-person visits too.)
  • List your medications. Write down all the medications—including over-the-counter meds and supplements—that you are currently taking. Include the dose and how often you take them. And be sure to mention anything you take “as needed,” such as pain medications and antacids.
  • List your symptoms. Write out what symptoms are giving you trouble, when they started, how they have changed, what seems to trigger them, and what seems to make them better.
  • Send photos. Skin issues, such as rashes, bruises, moles, lumps, and insect bites can be “examined” by the provider in a picture. Be sure the image is in focus and you have good lighting when you take the picture. If a rash is spreading, you can take a series of photos over several hours or days, drawing a circle around the area with a pen. Be sure to note the date and time. Ask the staff when you make the appointment how they prefer you to send these images: email, text, or through the patient portal.
  • Organize your data. If you have been monitoring symptoms, such as blood pressure, blood sugar, weight (to identify water retention), or temperature, have these numbers organized and available. It’s also a good idea to have this equipment available during the visit so you can take these measurements then too.
  • Be ready to talk. Be prepared to answer the phone at the time of the appointment so you aren’t playing phone tag. Find a quiet place with good cell phone reception so you and the provider can both hear well.
  • Know your equipment. If you are using video applications, be sure you know how the technology works ahead of time. You may even want to test out the camera and microphone on your device ahead of time.

Not all issues lend themselves to telemedicine visits. Emergency situations, such as a heart attack or stroke, cuts or lacerations, or broken bones that require x-rays, splints, or casts need to be handled at the emergency room. Telemedicine also won’t work for procedures, such as PAP smears, mammograms, EMG studies, and cardiograms (unless you have special equipment that can collect and transmit an EKG).

Generally, virtual visits work best for simple issues and follow-up consultations that don’t require hands-on examination or in-person observation. Your provider’s office staff can help you decide if a telemedicine visit will work or if your concern might be better handled in person.

If you do need to go to the office or emergency room, you can be sure that everything possible is being done to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Most providers screen patients on the phone to be sure they don’t have symptoms of infection. If they do, those patients are usually seen outside in their car, so they don’t bring the virus into the office.

Equipment and clinic surfaces are disinfected thoroughly and frequently. Healthcare providers usually wear as much personal protective gear as they have available, including gloves, gowns, masks, eye protection, and shoe coverings. You should also wear a mask whenever you go anywhere other people may be nearby, including to a medical facility.