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B.C. doctors stressed over medical dye shortage

Nearly a month after the shutdown of a Shanghai facility, hospitals in B.C. are still lacking contrast dye that is crucial to some procedures.
A doctor leans on her desk and looks at a radiogram of a chest on her desktop computer in this stock image.

B.C. residents may have to wait even longer for their MRIs and CT scans due to a global shortage of iodinated contrast media, commonly known as contrast dye, that is still affecting procedures and worrying doctors. 

The scarcity is due to a COVID-19-related shutdown at a GE Healthcare facility in Shanghai. The company is one of the leading manufacturers of the product, meaning that despite only one shutdown, they were not able to keep up with demand. 

“While the factory is now up and running at full capacity, it will take some time to replenish stock globally,” said a spokesperson for Vancouver Coastal Health in a statement. 

Despite the plant now operating at 100 per cent productivity starting on Wednesday, June 8, the ripple effect will continue to be felt in the province. 

Dr. Manraj K.S. Heran,  a diagnostic and interventional neuroradiologist at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), says that the anxiety is felt throughout all levels of his department. 

“When we do a procedure that relies on us to be able to inject a contrast for a variety of different things, you can see that if we don't have that available, or if we have it in limited supply, it has an immediate impact on our ability to take care of people,” Heran said, “because we now have to think about ‘Oh, are we going to be able to have enough for tomorrow?’”

GE Healthcare was not able to provide any information about upcoming shipments for Canada. In a statement, the company said its medical affairs team is available to provide advice to hospitals that are affected. 

A spokesperson for Vancouver Coastal Health said all requests for contrast CT exams won't be postponed until they are reviewed and considered. Where possible, they will proceed without contrast dye or using an alternative imaging service, added a spokesperson. 

According to Heran, VGH has been able to proceed with procedures as normal, but he says that this doesn’t take away from the fear that the department’s next shipment may not arrive. 

Glacier Media has reached out to the Ministry of Health but had not received a response by publication time.