WASHINGTON — First it was the rush for hand sanitizer. Then it was the quest for the vaccine. Now, as increasing numbers of children are coming down with swine flu, more parents are facing yet another anxiety-provoking chase: the hunt for liquid Tamiflu for kids.
Spot shortages of the liquid form of the antiviral medicine are forcing mothers and fathers to drive from pharmacy to pharmacy, often late into the evening after getting a diagnosis and prescription from a pediatrician, in search of the syrup recommended for the youngest victims of the global H1N1 pandemic.
“It was so frustrating,” said Cheryl Copeland of Silver Spring, Md., who finally found some of the medication for her 5-year-old son, William, at an independent drug store Monday after having no luck at a CVS and Rite Aid. “There was a moment when the first pharmacist said, ‘We don’t have it. There’s been a run on it,’ when I said to myself, ‘Where on Earth am I going to find it?’ “
The drug can make the flu milder, go away more quickly and may cut the risk of potentially life-threatening complications. The shortages are being caused by a surge in demand because of the second wave of swine flu sweeping the country, combined with a decision by Roche, the Swiss company that makes the medication, to focus on producing it in capsule form.
In response, the government has shipped to states hundreds of thousands of five-day courses from the Strategic National Stockpile, which is on standby in case there are disease outbreaks or bioterrorism attacks. Officials have also instructed doctors to suggest that pharmacists mix the powder from capsules with syrup to make a liquid for children if the company’s version is unavailable.
The Food and Drug Administration and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also posted the formula for pharmacists to follow, including guidelines for the correct dosing by each child’s weight.
Federal health officials are confident that enough Tamiflu is available in the capsule or liquid forms to make sure children can be treated promptly.
“For the most part, patients are getting treated,” said Greg Burel, director of the CDC’s Division of Strategic National Stockpile. “There have been shortages in sporadic spots, but generally it’s still available.”
But the spot shortages are creating anxious hours for many parents, especially because children appear to be among those at greatest risk from the illness.