This summer could be a real stinger for people who are allergic to insect stings.
Honeybee, hornet, and wasp venom extracts used in vaccines are in short supply.
Medical experts say there’s no cause for concern, though, because supplies are still available.
The shortage started in October, when ALK Laboratories of Denmark — one of two manufacturers — shut down production due to contamination problems, Kaiser Health News reported.
It will take until next year until ALK’s problem is resolved.
Jubilant HollisterStier, a company based in Washington State, is now the sole producer of the venoms.
“This is not a shortage of insects. It’s a shortage of a commercial venom extract product used by allergists, and it’s due to a manufacturing delay at one of the two suppliers of these products,” Dr. David Golden, an allergy expert and associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, told Healthline. “Hopefully this shortage will bring more attention to this life-saving treatment that is under-recognized and under-utilized.”
Venom an important antidote
Golden estimates that there’s been a 25 to 35 percent reduction in supply.
The vaccines are used as part of venom immunotherapy (VT). VT involves injecting small doses of venom to reduce sensitivity to the allergens that can be deadly in some cases.
Other people with insect venom allergic reactions can carry portable epinephrine, also known as an EpiPen.
“Epinephrine injectors are an important backup to treat anaphylaxis if it occurs. But only venom immunotherapy can totally prevent the reaction from happening, and can cure the allergy in most people,” Golden explained.
“If you get immunized with the allergy shots for venom, you won’t even have the reaction or need medical treatment when you get stung,” he added.
What to do in the meantime
Golden and his colleagues released some recommendations for venom vaccine usage during the shortage.
The recommendations suggest spacing out doses at longer intervals and stopping treatment to those at the lowest risk for severe reactions.
“Someone who has had a severe reaction to a sting should never have to worry about having another reaction if they see an allergist for appropriate diagnosis and treatment,” Golden noted. “I’ve been asked if we are rationing the venoms. I wouldn’t describe it as rationing. We’re using scientific research to provide guidelines on how to safely stretch our supply of venoms and still give adequate protection to all who need it.”
Tonya A. Winders, president and chief executive officer of the Allergy & Asthma Network, said the issue is being addressed. She believes the manufacturers will be able to find solutions to meet demands.
Meanwhile, anyone who has had an allergic reaction to a previous sting should see a board-certified allergist and discuss their treatment options.
“It’s imperative that they carry an epinephrine auto-injector in the event of a life-threatening reaction from future stings,” Winders said.
Winders added that most people who are allergic to venom stings have not gotten the appropriate diagnosis nor discussed the option of therapy to prevent future reactions.