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Pharmacies Scurry To Keep Flu Treatment In Stock

A picture of Tamiflu tablets.

Flu season has pharmacies scrambling to keep an antiviral drug called Tamiflu in stock.

Duke University Pharmacy Professor Richard Drew says unlike vaccines, Tamiflu works to treat and stop the spread of the disease.

“It's both a preventative and a treatment strategy,” Drew explains. “And, certainly, for those people who have a serious illness and require hospitalization, it's a very important drug.”

Sarah Lee manages the pharmacy supply chain for UNC Hospitals. She says this time each year, the demand for Tamiflu goes up exponentially.

“What we've seen is spotty availability due to the increased demand,” Lee says. “So, we've been very diligent about following with our suppliers regularly and making sure that we know when their next shipment is coming in and ensuring that we have the product we need to treat our patients at UNC.”

Lee says it helps that UNC had some fresh medicine left over from a flu outbreak this summer.

But retail pharmacies are struggling to keep Tamiflu on their shelves.

Some pharmacists say the season's high demand might be in part due to a flu strain not prevented by this year's vaccine.

Pharmacist David Smithwick owns Southern Village Pharmacy in Chapel Hill.

Smithwick says there's plenty flu vaccine to go around.

“You hear the reports that it's effective only against X-percent of the current flu that's in the marketplace, but better to have some protection rather than none,” Smithwick says.

Smithwick adds it might be easier for independent pharmacies to keep Tamiflu in stock because they often have more flexible purchasing agreements than chain stores.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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