Local pharmacies struggle to meet demand for flu medications amid shortages

South Carolina is experiencing its most active flu season in a decade, with 30 times the number...
South Carolina is experiencing its most active flu season in a decade, with 30 times the number of cases this year compared to last.((NICK NEVILLE/WIS))
Published: Dec. 6, 2022 at 8:10 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina is experiencing its most active flu season in a decade, with 30 times the number of cases this year compared to last.

That, combined with surging Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID cases, has led to nationwide shortages for some key medications.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, those shortages could last several months.

Lynn Connelly, pharmacist and owner of the Medicine Mart in West Columbia, said there has been an uptick in demand for nearly all the cough and cold products that he carries.

He said the short supply of some items is likely because many retailers budgeted based on last year’s sales. With such an active flu season, Connelly said that supply is not enough.

Connelly said it has left customers scrambling from store to store.

He said some customers call his pharmacy after they have unsuccessfully tried to track down Tamiflu, which is used to ease flu symptoms in adults and children, at four other local pharmacies.

“‘I can’t find Tamiflu do you have any of it in stock?’ and we find out what strength, how many it is they’re looking for, and we either do or don’t have it,” he said. “In most cases we have been able to have it.”

Medicine Mart has enough Tamiflu, according to Connelly, because it had anticipated increased demand and stocked up with wholesalers in October.

“We’ve been able to keep the stock up ever since,” he said. “We’re still doing real well, whether or not we have enough to make it through the whole flu season I don’t know.”

Connelly said it has been difficult to find other medications too.

“We ourselves have had a problem getting Robitussin DM and some of the cough drops have been hard to come by as well,” he said. “We’ve used other cough syrups like Delsym and that’s worked really well. And we haven’t, for the most part, had a problem getting it. We’ve been able to make do and make everybody happy, but it’s been more of a struggle this year than it has been in years past.”

The latest data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control shows that 1,523 people have been hospitalized with flu-like symptoms this year. That is up from just 38 at this time last year.

There have already been 21 flu-related deaths this year statewide. Last year, there had only been 3 by this point.

Dr. Jonathan Knoche, DHEC Medical Consultant, said there are multiple factors contributing to the increased number of flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.

“Some are on the virus side itself so the influenza virus, there are different strains and they mutate and some are more transmissible and more virulent than others,” he said. “The other factor is on the human side so what are we doing for our behavior? So we’ve got the majority of South Carolinians who have not received their flu shot.”

Currently, about 51 percent of South Carolina residents over the age of 65 have received their flu shot.

16.1 percent of those aged 16-64 have done so, and 16.4 percent of eligible residents 18 and younger have gotten the flu shot.

In the midst of National Influenza Vaccination Week, DHEC is encouraging residents to get their flu shot.

RELATED CONTENT / Annual Flu Vaccine Week encourages families to get their shots

“Even if the shot only prevents 50 percent of cases, it prevents even more hospitalizations and even more deaths,” Knoche said. “So even if you get a little sniffle after you’ve had the shot, it’s better than winding up in the hospital.”

DHEC advises people to stay up to date on their COVID boosters, as well.

Knoche said there is still plenty of time to get a flu shot, as it is still early in the season.

If someone were to get their flu vaccine now, it would reach peak efficacy by the holidays.

There are several ways to get a flu shot, including from a provider or at local pharmacies like Medicine Mart.

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