AHF Blasts Pfizer Over Shortage of Syphilis Medication Bicillin on Heels of CDC Report Showing Skyrocketing Infection Rates; Pregnant women at particular risk

This is second time this year that Pfizer has had a shortage of Bicillin, its key syphilis drug, available or in stock; Pregnant women with syphilis remain at particular risk of passing infection on to newborns if Pfizer’s medication Bicillin L-A is not available.

 “There is simply no excuse for a company the size of Pfizer not being able to keep an important drug like Bicillin in good supply,” said Michael Weinstein, AHF President.

LOS ANGELES (December 5, 2016) As reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases continue to rise across the U.S., AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) today sharply criticized the U.S. biopharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, which describes itself on its website as “… one of the world’s premier innovative biopharmaceutical companies,” for a shortage Bicillin, its key medication to treat syphilis. This is the second time this year that the drug has been in short supply following a similar outage in June.

The current shortage comes on the heels of an alarming Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report released in mid-October titled: “Reported STDs at Unprecedented High in the U.S.” According to an NPR article on the CDC report, “The number of people infected with three major sexually transmitted diseases is at an all-time high, according to a CDC report released Wednesday [Oct. 19].” NPR also noted, “… the increase in reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis is hitting teenagers and young adults hardest.”

“There is simply no excuse for a company the size of Pfizer not being able to keep an important drug like Bicillin in good supply,” said Michael Weinstein, AHF President.  As far back as June, Pfizer issued alerts to health agencies around the nation that a manufacturing delay of Bicillin L-A, the only brand of penicillin recommended to treat syphilis in pregnant women, would cause temporary shortages of the injectable medication.  In publicly released statements at the time, Pfizer said it was allocating shipments to last through the end of that month and shipped only 30% of normal monthly demand into the supply chain to help prevent a stock-out. That was six months ago. Meanwhile, reports of skyrocketing STD rates have been in the news for the past two years. It is unconscionable that Pfizer is at this crossroad again a mere six months later.” 

“Pregnant women with syphilis are at particular risk of passing infection on to newborns if Pfizer’s medication Bicillin L-A is not available, added Dr. Michael Wohlfeiler, Chief of Medicine/US for AHF. “Alternative therapies to treat and cure syphilis are less effective in most cases due to patient adherence issues and tend not to curtail the disease as quickly as injection. Bicillin L-A is also the only medical treatment recommended for pregnant women with syphilis and Pfizer has the exclusive patent on the medication.” 

According to the California Department of Public Health, the annual number of reported syphilis cases among women more than doubled from 248 cases to 594 from 2012 to 2014.  Reported cases of congenital syphilis, which occurs when a woman transmits the infection to her fetus during pregnancy, tripled during the same time period.  The $122.5 billion state budget approved in June by California lawmakers included $5 million for efforts by the Department of Public Health to prevent sexually transmitted disease prevention efforts.

According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates, there are 20 million new STD infections each year in the United States, costing the healthcare system nearly $16 billion in direct medical costs. The agency also reports more than 110 million current cases of sexually transmitted infections in U.S. men and women. 

AHF’s Wellness Centers provide free testing for sexually transmitted diseases, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV. To find the nearest location for STD screening and treatment, visit http://www.freestdcheck.org.