The Biden administration on Wednesday said it is making additional doses of the prescription flu medicine Tamiflu available from the Strategic National Stockpile so states can respond to the sharp, early rise in influenza cases this year.
Flu season has hit especially hard this year, though it may be peaking in some parts of the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been at least 15 million illnesses, 150,000 hospitalizations, and 9,300 deaths from flu this year.
That sharp increase has led to increased demand for over-the-counter medicine as well as the antiviral Tamiflu in parts of the country, though the Food and Drug Administration has not officially listed the drug as being in shortage. Tamiflu can be prescribed to treat flu in anyone over the age of 2 weeks old.
Flu season is typically between October and May, and peaks in December and January. But this year it arrived at least six weeks early, with more severe illness. Hospitalizations have been high across all age groups, but the highest rates were among adults age 65 and older, and children age 4 and younger.
Influenza has not been a serious problem the last two years because of the precautions people took against COVID-19, like masking and physical distancing. But a large majority of the country has moved on from those protections, and as more people head inside in the colder months, the virus is taking its toll.
“Today we are taking action so that every jurisdiction can meet the increased demand for Tamiflu this flu season. State stockpiles can be utilized, and if jurisdictions need access to the Strategic National Stockpile, they now have it to respond to the current seasonal flu outbreak,” Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
HHS’s Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response will work with jurisdictions to evaluate any requests for Tamiflu through the Strategic National Stockpile.
Jurisdictions can dispense certain lots of Tamiflu that were procured for pandemic preparedness between 2006 to 2009. While they were originally meant for a pandemic, HHS said they are allowed to be used in the current flu season.
Jurisdictions that have exhausted their own stockpiled supplies of Tamiflu may request supplemental doses from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). This product is part of the federal stockpile of antiviral drugs held for pandemic preparedness, HHS said.
The move comes on the downslope of a sharp rise in RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, infections that overcrowded children’s hospitals. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are also rising.