Global Contrast Media Shortage Blamed on COVID Lockdown in China

Lucy Hicks

May 11, 2022

Global shortages of contrast media for CT imaging brought on by recent COVID-19 lockdowns may last through June.

Last month, GE Healthcare announced it would be limiting orders of Omnipaque (iohexol) after its Shanghai factory, which produces the iodinated contrast material, was temporarily closed because of a city-wide lockdown. The factory has since been reopened and will be producing at half capacity by the end of the week, GE Health said, and they are working with local authorities in Shanghai to bring more operators back into the factory next week. The company has also increased production in their Cork, Ireland plant.

"Our priority is delivering for our customers and their patients," GE Healthcare said in a statement to Medscape Medical News. "We are working around the clock to expand capacity of our iodinated contrast media products, including drawing on our global manufacturing network. For impacted markets, we continue to keep our customers informed and are working closely with them so they can plan accordingly."

The shortage is estimated to last from 6-8 weeks, according to multiple reports. GE did not confirm this number but noted that it is a fluid situation.

Hospitals around the United States are now preparing to mitigate the effects of this limited supply on patient care. "While we have been told to expect normal production to resume late next month, hospitals are exploring various conservation strategies including the use of other imaging technologies, using other contrast agents, rationing contrast and ensuring every available drop of contrast dye is used efficiently, and postponing some scans that can be postponed, to give a few examples, in order to continue to provide needed care," said Nancy Foster, the vice president of quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association, in a statement on May 10.

The American College of Radiology (ACR) issued a statement on May 6 to offer guidance during the storage. The medical society recommended working with other departments that also use iodinated contrast materials — such as urology, gastroenterology, and vascular surgery — to prioritize usage of the limited supply, as well as using alternatives such as iothalamate meglumine or diatrizoate for oral, rectal, and genitourinary administration. "Ensure enough contrast dose is used for diagnostic image quality," the ACR statement advised. "Do not sacrifice image quality by using suboptimal doses."

Update May 12, 2022 // Editor's Note: This article has been updated to include comment from GE Healthcare.

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