Flu outbreak leads to vaccine, drug shortages
The unexpected severity of this year's season has caught drugmakers and pharmacies by surprise.
It's being described as the worst flu outbreak to hit the United States in years. And the rising rate of influenza cases is creating shortages of the drugs and treatments flu sufferers need.
The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports widespread influenza activity in 47 states -- with "influenza-like illness" accounting for 4.3% of health provider outpatient visits, compared with last year’s 2.2%.
The CDC says that more than 128 million doses of influenza vaccine have been distributed this flu season and that "some vaccine providers might have exhausted their vaccine supplies" as the outbreak continues.
Roche Holding (RHHBY) tells Reuters there have been supply interruptions of its Tamiflu liquid treatment for children. Tamiflu, which lessens or stops flu symptoms and can shorten the illness, is one of most widely prescribed drugs for the treatment of influenza.
Ryan Wells, a pharmacist in Wichita Falls, Texas, told the Times Record News his store has some Tamiflu in stock but is having trouble keeping up with demand. Wells said as of Thursday some wholesalers were having a shortage of liquid Tamiflu.
"We want to try to make sure that we save it so we have enough supplies for the people that are most at risk," physician Melody Mendiola told WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh. "Elderly people, people with chronic health conditions and the people that are most at risk for being hospitalized."
CVS (CVS) reports "intermittent shortages" of Tamiflu at some of its stores. "It's a combination of the fact that the supplier has had an issue with getting enough liquid Tamiflu in the market and the demand caused by the early influenza season," company spokesman Mike DeAngelis said in an interview with USA Today.
DeAngelis tells MSN Money that high demand is also causing temporary shortages of flu vaccines at some CVS locations. "But we still have vaccine in stock and we resupply our pharmacies and clinics as quickly as possible."
Meanwhile, Sanofi SA (SNYNF), which produces most flu vaccines used in the U.S., told Reuters it has already sold out of two-thirds of its Fluzone seasonal flu vaccine on the unexpected demand.
Another vaccine maker, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), expects to have its flu vaccine available until the middle of next month.
A spokesman for Walgreen (WAG), one of the nation's largest drugstore chains, told NBC News some of its locations may be experiencing shortages of flu vaccine because of "increased demand for flu shots in recent weeks." Last week, the company reported its pharmacists had administered 5.5 million flu shots so far this season, compared with 5.3 million for last season.
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