You need Tamiflu, but can you get it?

If you've received a Tamiflu prescription in the past few weeks, you might have noticed a problem.

Not all of the pharmacies in Rochester have enough of the an antiviral drug used to treat influenza to fill prescriptions.

That can be a problem, since antiviral drugs should be taken within a couple days after symptoms first appear.

Tamiflu manufacturers have enough of the drug to meet demand for the season, said Doug Schultz, an information officer for the Minnesota Department of Health. The issue is how quickly pharmacies are moving through individual supplies.

Right now, manufacturers are catching up with demand in terms of individual orders.


Philip Hommerding of Hunt Silver Lake Drug doesn't feel strained, though.

Hommerding says there might have been a slight uptick in the number Tamiflu prescriptions, but overall, he hasn't noticed a huge change from last year's usage.

"It's just that time of year when a lot of people have the flu," he said.

Hunt Drug has filled a few prescriptions for other pharmacies, he said, when those locations have run out of the drug.

He's also had to "hunt around for a good price" on Tamiflu, he said, as some suppliers are allocating limited quantities to pharmacies to keep any one location from hoarding it.

"But if I need a bottle or two of Tamiflu, I've had it," he said.

The takeaway? Call your pharmacy ahead of time.

Schultz said the MDH is encouraging people to call pharmacies and, if their supplier doesn't have Tamiflu, ask if the pharmacy can source it from another location or compound the oral suspension of Tamiflu onsite.


"Obviously, with antivirals, you need to get it within a day or two or it's not going to do you any good," Schultz said.

Olmsted Medical Center has seen an increase in Tamiflu prescriptions, especially in patients with multiple chronic conditions and high-risk patients whose symptoms started within 48 hours, according to a statement from Shelli DeGeus, an infection prevention nurse at OMC.

"As of today, we have not seen a shortage of Tamiflu," she said.

A GoodRX study from Jan. 29 indicated that Tamiflu prescriptions were 10 times more common this year than last, according to "a nationally representative sample of U.S. prescriptions."

Influenza is widespread in Minnesota this season, Schultz said. He encourages people to get the flu shot if the haven't already, as flu season certainly lasts through March, and could even continue through May.

Gregory Poland, a physician and vaccinologist at Mayo Clinic, said this year's flu vaccine is 30 percent effective, which means it prevents influenza in roughly one in three immunized people.

Although it may not prevent symptomatic illness in everyone, having the vaccine will go a long way toward preventing the complications of influenza in people who do get it — hospitalization and pneumonia.

The flu vaccine also contains four strains of influenza — the H3N2 strain that was and is prominent early in the season, and three other b-strains that are likely to gain prominence in the next 12 or 13 weeks, he said.


"About 10, 12 percent of the hospitalizations due to flu occurring in Texas are now (influenza) B - which is in the vaccine. In Minnesota, there are about 30 B cases. … And you can get influenza more than one time a year," Poland said. "So for those people who got the vaccine, they've reduced their odds of getting a symptomatic illness from the current circulating strain by about 30 percent. Probably protected themselves against hospitalization and death by about 50 to 70 percent, and protected themselves probably about at an 80 percent rate, against the other three strains that will circulate this year."

It's not too late to get the flu shot, he emphasized. In fact, as flu shots take about two weeks to become active, anyone who has put it off until now should hurry in to their nearest provider.

"In the U.S., influenza epidemics peak in the January to March time frame," Poland said. "In fact, given the severity of this year, I would plead with people, as a physician, if they have not gotten the vaccine, to go and get it."

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