AMANDA SEITZ

Associated Press

The Biden administration said Wednesday it will release doses of prescription flu medicine from the Strategic National Stockpile to states as flu-sickened patients continue to flock to hospitals and doctors’ offices around the country.

This year’s flu season has hit hard and early. Some people are even noticing bare shelves at pharmacies and grocery stores when they make a run for over-the-counter medicines as cases have spiked. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the flu has resulted in 150,000 hospitalizations and 9,300 deaths so far this season.

“Jurisdictions will be able to get the support they need to keep Americans healthy as flu cases rise this winter,” Dawn O’Connell, an assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Health and Human Services Department, which oversees the CDC, said in a statement.

States will be able to request doses of the prescription flu medication Tamiflu kept in the Strategic National Stockpile from HHS. The administration is not releasing how many doses will be made available. Antiviral medications were released from the stockpile more than a decade ago during the H1N1, also known as swine flu, pandemic.

Last week, the federal agency also announced it would allow states to dip into statewide stockpiles for Tamiflu, making millions of treatment courses available. Tamiflu can be prescribed to treat flu in people over the age of 2 weeks old.

This flu season is coming on the heels of a nasty spike of RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, cases in children and just as COVID-19 cases are climbing — again.

Spot shortages of over-the-counter pain relievers and medicines have been reported at stores around the country, particularly for children. HHS said it is working with states to keep in-demand medicines stocked, and drug makers like Johnson & Johnson report production is running around the clock.

“There are more sick kids at this time of year than we have seen in the past couple years,” said Dr. Shannon Dillon, a pediatrician at Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis.

Experts say that’s the main factor behind the shortages, which vary around the country and even within communities.

Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson says it is not experiencing widespread shortages of Children’s Tylenol, but the product may be “less readily available” at some stores. The company said it is running its production lines around the clock.

CVS Health, for example, has placed a two-product limit on all children’s pain relief products bought through its pharmacies or online. Walgreens is limiting customers online to six purchases of children’s over-the-counter fever reducing products.

The Food and Drug Administration has not reported a shortage of Tamiflu. However, the federal agency says the prescription antibiotic amoxicillin is in short supply due to increased demand.

Experts said to check for alternatives in the store if some products aren’t available. Generic versions of brand-name products are “perfectly safe and often a much more affordable option,” Dillon said.

Other stores nearby also may have better options. Doctors also caution that fevers don’t always have to be treated. They are a body’s natural defense against infection, and they make it hard for a virus to replicate.

Dillon noted, for instance, that a fever may not be intrinsically harmful to older children. However, parents should take a newborn under 2 months old to the doctor if the child has a fever of 100.4 degrees or more. And doctors say any child with a fever should be monitored for behavior changes.

Instead of medicine, consider giving the child a bath in lukewarm water. Cold water makes the body shiver, which can actually raise the temperature.

Put fans in the child’s room or set up a cool mist humidifier to help their lungs.

Experts also said two teaspoons of honey can help control coughs in children older than a year. Avoid using honey for young children because it carries a risk of infant botulism.