Pharmacies and flu patients from coast to coast are reporting shortages of Tamiflu, the antiviral drug used to treat symptoms of the flu (influenza). It is recommended for children and adults who have been symptomatic for no more than two days. In many cases, Tamiflu can minimize the symptoms of the flu (cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, fever, chills, aches, tiredness) and may also shorten the recovery time by 1-2 days. It essentially stops the flu virus from growing.
But due to increased demand as a result of the worst flu epidemic in recent years, many pharmacies are running out of Tamiflu. A GoodRx analysis of a representative sample of pharmacies found that pharmacy fills for Tamiflu are increasing. “In Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, and Arkansas, prescriptions are up over 20-fold from last year, and other parts of the south and midwest are likewise seeing an exceptionally high prescription volume,” GoodRx found.
“On a national basis, prescriptions for Tamiflu are up more than 6 times last year’s rate,” according to GoodRx. “The high volume of Tamiflu prescriptions at this point in the season has resulted in a shortage of the medication. While the FDA has not yet confirmed this shortage, doctors and pharmacists in both urban and rural areas are reporting difficulty in accessing Tamiflu for their patients.”
Fox 8 Cleveland reported this week that pharmacies in Northeast Ohio are experiencing shortages of the generic, liquid Tamiflu, and said that many patients have taken prescriptions to their local pharmacies, “only to learn that the pharmacy is out of stock” or that only the very expensive name brand is available. Name brand Tamiflu can cost up to $180 and is not covered by most insurance plans.
“We have four suppliers that we check daily, none of them have it in stock and even if they did we would be limited to about one a day that we could order and we have not been able to get it for the last two weeks,” Ana Ibragimova, a pharmacy technician at Euclid Family Pharmacy, told Fox 8 Cleveland. “We’ve actually had to turn a mother away two days ago and she had to go back to the hospital,” she said.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Tamiflu is also hard to come by in California:
CVS spokeswoman Amy Lanctot said increased demand for Tamiflu in California may have led to some stores being temporarily out of stock. Other pharmacies reported that they were running low on the medicine or were out completely.
“They’re all on back order right now,” said Talia Dimaio, a pharmacy clerk at Rancho Park Compounding Pharmacy in West L.A. “We can’t get it.”
Bob Purcell, spokesman for the San Francisco-based pharmaceutical company Genentech, which makes Tamiflu, said there isn’t a national shortage of the medicine, suggesting that pharmacists’ shelves were emptied this week by a sudden surge in demand.
Detroit area pharmacies are also seeing a high demand for the antiviral drug. WXYZ is reporting that “many pharmacies across the region are experiencing a shortage of Tamiflu” and that “The liquid form of Tamiflu is on a manufacturing backorder.”
Some pharmacies, like the Village Pharmacy and Compound in Bloomfield Hills, are going to extraordinary lengths to help patients get the medication they need, taking the capsule form of Tamiflu and making it into a liquid form that’s easier for children to ingest.
Pharmacist Jeff Bennett told WXYZ that “demand is huge right now.”
Boston is also reporting shortages. According to Boston 25 News:
“We do get a lot of calls from pharmacies saying they don’t have it [Tamiflu] in stock. Asking if we do,” said Lisa Rodgers, Sullivan’s Pharmacy.
The state department of public health tells Boston 25 News, “we’ve heard of supply chain issues for Tamiflu that might affect individual pharmacies at a particular time, but we hear that there are adequate supplies overall.”
“It all depends on who your wholesaler is – what they have in stock,” said Rodgers.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. said in a statement that his office is hearing of spot shortages of antivirals used to treat the flu, as well as flu tests. “However, at this time,” Gottlieb said, “there is no nationwide shortage of these products.
He said the FDA is carefully monitoring the situation. “While there have been some reported spot shortages, flu vaccines are still available. I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t had a flu shot to get one and anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms to promptly consult with their health care provider about appropriate treatment options.”
The FDA also reports that saline bags used to hydrate flu patients are in short supply, due in part to recent demand as a result of Hurricane Maria, which has led the FDA to expand the expiration dates of some saline products.
After recent reports of deaths and unusual behavior amongst patients who had taken Tamiflu, the FDA issued a warning:
Children and teenagers with the flu may be at a higher risk for seizures, confusion, or abnormal behavior early during their illness. These serious side effects may happen shortly after beginning Tamiflu of may happen in people when the flu is not treated. These serious side effects are not common but may result in accidental injury to the patient. People who take Tamiflu should be watched for sins of unusual behavior and a healthcare provider should be contacted right away if the patient shows any unusual behavior while taking Tamiflu.
Prevention still remains the best way to stay healthy in the midst of a nationwide flu epidemic. GoodRx recommends the following:
- You can still get your flu vaccine. Even though the flu shot may only 10% effective against this year’s flu, you may still want to consider getting it. Even if you get sick, a flu vaccine can also help ease the severity and duration of the virus.
- Visit your doctor immediately. When true flu symptoms hit, go to the doctor. The sooner you visit, the sooner you can get your prescription for an antiviral medication.
- Wash your hands. This may go without saying, but washing your hands is your best weapon against the flu virus.
- Exercising may help. While heavy exercise may predispose you to the flu, a moderate amount may be protective.