Clamor for flu drugs clears store shelves

Forget runs on shaky banks. Now, the big run is on pharmacies as a nervous public clamors for anti-flu meds. Pharmacies all over the world are running out of Roche's Tamiflu, from Trinidad and Tobago to Queensland, Australia, to Singapore to Los Angeles. Folks are showing up with scrips in hand--sometimes dozens in a day--depleting the stocks even before disease breaks out.

"Clearly these requests are for stockpiling and not for active infections," one Los Angeles pharmacist who'd run out of Tamiflu told the LA Times. "These drugs sit in the medicine cabinets of the well-heeled who can demand and get a prescription for every single member of the family while these drugs remain in short supply for populations that may need it." There are no active cases in the area, the pharmacist said, and other nearby pharmacies have run out, too.

In New York, there are active cases--and some flu patients are reporting difficulties filling their antiviral scrips because pharmacies are sold out. Some stores are now requiring managers' approval for filling the prescriptions. Public health officials are warning people not to use the drugs "indiscriminately."

Sales of Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline's Relenza have surged in Finland, where authorities worry that public stockpiling could feed unnecessary use of the drugs--which in turn might increase the chance of the virus developing resistance to them. In Australia, demand for anti-flu meds has been "massive." Trinidad and Tobago pharmacies don't have the drugs in stock.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health has made Tamiflu available over the counter, beginning Friday. The country is investigating 11 possible cases--so far--and are treating another 56 illnesses as "suspected swine flu." The worried well have fed a steady demand for the Roche antiviral on pharmacy shelves; the government's stockpile is being reserved for those with symptoms.

Glaxo and Roche are both gearing up to boost production of their meds, and millions of treatment courses are in government stockpiles around the world. But supply and demand problems are local phenomena, so we can expect to hear more about regional shortages.

- read the LA Times story
- get the news from TV New Zealand
- see the piece from Finland
- find more from the Philadelphia Inquirer
- check out the article on New York shortages
- read the Australian story