D.C. area sees Tamiflu shortage

Tamiflu. (WJLA photo)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) – Tamiflu is the prescription drug millions of Americans turn to when they’re suffering from the flu; some even use Tamiflu to guard against getting the virus in the first place.

Genentech, the company that produces Tamiflu, told 7 On Your Side Consumer Investigator Kimberly Suiters that “Despite [a] robust supply nationally, from time to time, spot shortages may occur in local areas.”

At this time, the D.C. metropolitan region appears to be one of those areas.

7 On Your side called and visited five pharmacies and found a shortage of Tamiflu, particularly the liquid form of the drug which children can take.

A spokesman for Safeway pharmacies said they have been impacted by a shortage. One Safeway we checked in Arlington had just one supply of Tamiflu pills remaining. A Walgreens pharmacy representative recommended that patients call ahead of time to make sure the drug is in stock. A local pharmacist with Walgreens told 7 On Your Side that calls for Tamiflu have surged in the last week. Similarly, a CVS pharmacist said the product is largely on backorder.

Only an independent, locally-owned pharmacy called Preston’s had both the liquid and pill forms of Tamiflu in ample supply.

“As soon as we heard the virus had mutated, a bell went off and we stocked up to make sure we could serve patients in the area,” said Sharon Grant, a pharmacist at Preston’s.

Grant was referring to the mismatch between this year’s strain of flu and the vaccine. The effectiveness of the vaccine is believed to be less than 40 percent this year, and perhaps as low as 20 percent. An accurate percentage will be calculated once flu season winds down in the spring.

Eleven-year-old Brooke Cranwell contracted the flu after spending the night at a friend’s house last Friday. The friend had a sore throat and didn’t know she was contagious. As a result, six girls from the sleepover came down with flu-like symptoms.

“I got chocolate in my stocking and fluffy socks, a curling iron, but also a fever,” Brooke said.

She is taking an over-the-counter cough medication to give her some relief, but the CVS pharmacy across the street is out of liquid Tamiflu.

“Christmas was kind of ruined because of it,” Brooke said.

A parent in Loudoun County told 7 On Your Side she searched for Tamiflu at three different pharmacies. When she finally found the liquid form, the cost was $250. She gave her ailing daughter the choice between the medication and a new camera for Christmas. Her daughter chose the camera and, fortunately, is recovering from the illness without complications.

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