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Wholesalers blocked from exporting or hoarding two flu drugs as cases rise

The Department of Health and Social Care (DH) has banned wholesalers from exporting or “hoarding” two medicines treating influenza A and B, as UK flu cases rocket.

Wholesale dealer license holders are barred from “hoarding” flu medicines oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir, as well as from exporting them from the UK from today (December 20).

The two drugs are used to treat and reduce influenza A and B symptoms.

The DH added the medications to its regularly updated ‘list of medicines that cannot be exported from the UK or hoarded', which it uses to identify products that “are needed for UK patients”.

Medicines are also placed on the list if they are at “risk of being in shortage” or their export might “contribute to a shortage or risk of shortage of that medicine in the UK”, the DH explained in its guidance.

It comes as flu test positivity rates in the UK last week jumped to 20.2%, according to data released by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on Thursday (December 15). This marks a 6.8% increase in postitive flu test rates on the previous week.

Consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA, Conall Watson, commented that “flu is now circulating widely”.

The UKHSA is seeing “a sharp rise in the rate of hospitalisations for flu [last] week, particularly among the under-fives and over-85s”, he said.

These more than doubled for both groups last week compared the week before, the UKHSA wrote. “Admissions are now at the highest point since the 2017 to 2018 season and we are expecting case numbers to continue increasing as we move further into winter,” Dr Watson added.

C+D has approached the DH for comment on its decision to restrict the exporting and hoarding of the two flu medicines.

The DH last week (December 14) placed the same ban on antibiotics used to treat strep A, as pharmacists faced mounting demand for the drugs.

It followed this by issuing two sets of serious shortage protocols, so that pharmacists can supply alternatives to penicillin if they do not have the exact formulation on a patient’s prescription.

Meanwhile, Asda Pharmacy announced it had slashed the cost of its flu jab by half to £4.98 last week, after Well Pharmacy reduced its own to £5.

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