Canada, US brace for potential Tamiflu shortages

Jan 8, 2013 (CIDRAP News) – The brisk pace of flu activity in Canada and the United States has triggered concerns about possible oseltamivir (Tamiflu) shortages, with a Canadian announcement today of the drug’s release from the national stockpile and news that some parts of the United States may face low supplies of the liquid suspension for kids.

The Canadian government announced today that it will release a supply of oseltamivir from its National Emergency Stockpile to address a "potential temporary shortage" of the drug amid the current surge of flu cases. The government will immediately release oseltamivir to Roche Canada, the manufacturer, for distribution where it is needed throughout the country, said a statement from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

"This exceptional action will be taken to ensure Tamiflu remains available to those Canadians who need it until the manufacturer replenishes its supply with a new shipment expected in February," the statement said.

The PHAC added that it's seeing an early spike in flu cases and more severe illness than was seen in the last 2 years. The agency urged Canadians to get a flu shot, commenting that this year's vaccine matches the circulating flu strains very well. The proportion of medical visits prompted by flu-like illness reached 6.6% in Canada in recent weeks, according to yesterday's flu update from the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile, in the United States an early and severe flu season may be straining the supply of Tamiflu liquid suspension for children in some parts of the country, Tara Iannuccillo, a spokeswoman for the drug’s maker, Roche, told CIDRAP News today. "We are working diligently to ensure a continuous supply of Tamiflu in the United States," she said.

Patients who can’t obtain the liquid suspension from their local pharmacies should consult their physicians or pharmacists for additional options, Iannuccillo said. In most cases pharmacists can compound a suspension from 75-mg Tamiflu capsules, she said, adding that healthcare provider information about dosing and compounding is available on the Tamiflu package insert and on the Tamiflu Web site.

Shortages of the liquid suspension cropped up in January 2011 and during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, which required pharmacies to compound the liquid form from the tablets. The liquid suspension is needed for children, for adult patients who have difficulty swallowing tablets, or when lower doses are needed. In the past Roche said that it took much more production capacity to make the liquid suspension than capsules.

See also:

Jan 8 PHAC announcement

Tamiflu oral suspension compounding directions

Jan 21, 2011, CIDRAP News item "FDA reports shortage of Tamiflu pediatric suspension"

Sep 11, 2009, CIDRAP News story "Roche boosts Tamiflu supply, addresses resistance"

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