Radiation Applications

Coronavirus / Radioisotope Industry Facing Distribution Challenges, Says IAEA

By David Dalton
21 April 2020

Agency schedules webinar and warns of possible shortages at hospitals
Radioisotope Industry Facing Distribution Challenges, Says IAEA
A researcher at Indonesia’s National Nuclear Agency using a hot cell to prepare a radiopharmaceutical. Courtesy M. Gaspar/IAEA.
The production of radioisotopes used to produce radiopharmaceuticals for medical procedures has continued during the Covid-19 pandemic, but hospitals could face shortages due to bottlenecks in transport and distribution, the International Atomic Energy Agency has warned.

An agency survey conducted among operators of research reactors that produce radioisotopes for radiopharmaceuticals shows that most major actors continue to produce radioisotopes because the production facilities have been defined as essential by the relevant governments.

However, many airlines are no longer operating because of the pandemic and borders are closed, which affects the distribution of medical radioisotopes around the world.

Joao Osso Junior, head of the radioisotope products and radiation technology section at the IAEA, said the agency is working to assess the need for medical radioisotopes because most research and education activities using isotopes have been put on hold and many hospitals have delayed diagnosis applications.

To ensure the continuity of the supply chain for patients, the agency is planning a webinar on 23 April to help define needs and ways to ease the bottlenecks,

The most common medical radioisotope, technetium-99m (Tc-99m), is used in some 40 million procedures per year. It accounts for about 80% of all nuclear medicine procedures and 85% of diagnostic scans in nuclear medicine worldwide.

Technetium-99 (Tc-99m) comes from molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), and all major producers of this radioisotope continue to operate, according to the IAEA.

Research reactors in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, France, Poland, the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa and the US are prepared to continue to meet demand. Once Mo-99 is ready, it is sent to other countries – mainly by air – as a source of Tc-99m at hospitals and nuclear medicine centres, which is normally given to a patient within hours.

Hospitals in some countries around the world have been forced to reschedule interventions, as they no longer receive Mo-99.

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