Rise in flu cases in the Metro boosts concerns in medication shortages

Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 6:29 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - With flu season only just beginning to kick into high gear, some local pharmacies across the St. Louis Metro are experiencing a new set of challenges.

“I think in the last two to three days, we’ve gotten 10, 15 orders for Tamiflu,” said Dr. Tyler Taylor, a pharmacist with St. Louis Hills Pharmacy. “Just because nobody has it and it’s a really bad season.”

“We’re scrambling, calling every supplier that we can every day and bringing in what we can,” Dr. Rick Williams, owner of Ladue Pharmacy, said.

Across the country, and among local pharmacies here in the region, there has been an ongoing shortage of flu and infection-tackling drugs, like Tamiflu and Amoxicillin. The shortage is heightened by the growing rate of influenza and RSV cases.

“For independent pharmacies, we have a little bit more flexibility. We can reach out to many different wholesalers that have it. Whereas your chain places usually have one or two places that they get their medication from,” said Taylor. “So, sometimes we’re able to source it from different places.”

The shortages come as area hospital networks are seeing cases of influenza double almost weekly, which is leading to longer wait times for admissions.

“We’re admitting about 10 or 20 patients a day to the hospital with influenza. So, it’s hitting our region pretty hard,” said Dr. Rob Poirier. “About 10 to 15 percent of the patients that we’re admitting per day now have viral illnesses, whether its influenza, COVID or RSV.”

Poirer is the clinical chief of emergency medicine at Barnes Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. He says they still have not had to make any decisions at his hospital on what or who they treat in response to increased hospital admissions.

“We’re running full but we’re managing,” said Poirier, “But if the numbers continue to double every week for the next couple of weeks, then we may have to make some of those decisions.”

Poirier says their hospitals are doing fine in terms of accessing flu medication. For places where stock may be in short supply, they are managing in other ways.

“For Tamiflu products, there’s not a lot to substitute with so, often times the doctor will transfer the prescription somewhere else,” said Williams. “For antibiotics, we’ll call the doctor and get an alternate done. In some cases, we can compound, or manufacture the product if it’s not commercially available.”

Pharmacists like Taylor suspect these shortages will only get worse before they being improving.

“It’s completely up to the supply chain,” said Taylor. “And there’s no real shortage of ingredients, it’s just high demand [and] slow processing. A lot of stuff is made overseas, so they shut down their facilities in say China…it’s not being produced, well we don’t have the stock for it, so we just can’t even order it.”

News 4 reached out to big chain pharmacies including CVS and Walgreens. A spokesperson for Walgreens sent the following statement in response to potential medication shortages:

While we’re not experiencing a widespread shortage of Tamiflu at this time, we are seeing increased demand at our stores nationwide and sporadic shipping from select manufacturers. We’re continuing to supply stores with Tamiflu and other flu-related medications using our existing inventory network, but there will be increased instances when individual pharmacies could be temporarily out-of-stock. We’re closely monitoring the situation and are working with suppliers to ensure our patients have access to flu-related medications.

The best advice both pharmacists and doctors give residents in the Metro to combat this ongoing rise in influenza cases is for people to keep boosting their immune systems by eating healthy and exercising, as well as getting vaccinated if people have not already.

“My kids’ getting her flu shot today, she just got over the flu. So, there’s different strains, there’s so many things involved with it. I would suggest anybody who can get it, please get it,” said Taylor.