Flu drugs are in short supply as cases rise

ByDonald L. Leech

Nov 11, 2022

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) – Flu levels in Arkansas are “very high,” according to the Arkansas Department of Health. With the increase in flu cases comes an increased demand for flu medications.

According to Julie Stewart, a pharmacist at Medical Arts Pharmacy, it is becoming difficult for her store to keep medicines in stock, especially for children. Stewart’s pharmacy needs to get new orders of children’s liquid Tamiflu.

“This one is not available from our wholesaler at the moment. We are able to sort a liquid if needed from the capsules, so we can accommodate that,” Stewart said.

Stewart’s pharmacy has to go to several wholesalers to find liquid Tamiflu for children. Some children cannot swallow pills or have difficulty swallowing pills, so it is important to have a liquid form of the medication to take.

Caul Corbell is a pharmacist at Live + Well Pharmacy in Fayetteville. He said he had heard of patients having to go to multiple pharmacies to find Tamiflu.

“I received a phone call from a young woman yesterday [Wednesday] evening, she said that she had already tried five or six pharmacies and had not been able to find her. Luckily we still had a few boxes on the shelf,” Corbell said.

Although Corbell is now confident in his supply, he is worried about what will happen as flu cases continue to rise.

“We’ve ramped up our orders to really stock up in case our wholesalers can’t get it and we might not be able to access it for a few weeks. So we can close the gap and make sure everyone gets their medicine,” Corbell said.

Still, Corbell remains hopeful that the stockpile of flu drugs will soon return to normal.

“Historically, for all types of drugs, from what I’ve seen, shortages usually don’t last that long. Usually it takes a few weeks to a month and then the market can kind of bounce back,” Corbell said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Marti Sharkey, the health officer for the city of Fayetteville, said flu cases were relatively low. Now that people have ended social distancing and ditched masks, other diseases are once again spreading faster.

“The state of Arkansas is experiencing a very high level of flu cases, especially for this time of year, the highest level of flu cases we’ve seen since 2016, I believe,” Sharkey said. .

The flu positivity rate in northwest Arkansas is 10-15%. Sharkey said those are high percentages of flu viruses for this time of year.

Dr. Gary Berner from the community clinic said the flu is the most prevalent virus right now. He has also heard of pharmacies running out of flu medicine.

According to Berner, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and others is to get your flu shot.

“There will be people who will still have the flu, but it’s about reducing this serious illness, instead of being out of work for more than a week,” Berner said.

According to Berner, many people who get the flu may not need Tamiflu. The drug is effective only if taken within the first days of symptoms. There are other things that can be done to relieve flu symptoms and speed up recovery, besides flu medication.

“Hydration, for these congestive symptoms — use humidifiers and take a hot shower, as long as it’s safe for you — ibuprofen. Then your typical over-the-counter medications to reduce congestion,” Berner said.

Sharkey said it was just the start of flu season. She reiterated the importance of getting a flu shot before the holiday season, especially with Thanksgiving just weeks away. The flu vaccine also takes about two weeks to start doing its job.

“You’re less likely to get that sick and you’re less likely to need to contact your primary care provider for Tamiflu,” Sharkey said.

Stewart said another shortage right now is for amoxicillin. Strep throat is circulating in northwest Arkansas, and it’s creating a shortage of antibiotics.

“Especially the liquid form for children. It’s a problem, that’s for sure. Many pharmacies are struggling to stock up on this,” Stewart said.

According to the Pat Walker Health System at the University of Arkansas, the flu positivity rate on Thursday was 13%. Two weeks ago it was 8%.