Deerfield, IL—Pharmacies are coming up with ways to combat the so-called tripledemic, where the United States has been hit with three widespread respiratory viruses at the same time.

Walgreens recently announced that rapid flu testing will now be available at more than 5,000 pharmacies nationwide using Abbott’s ID NOW devices to administer the tests. Results will be available within 2 hours.

The CDC advises that this year’s influenza season began earlier and appears more severe than usual; at the same time, the SARS-COV-2 virus remains widespread. In addition, respiratory syncytial virus appears to be affecting more children than usual.

The result has been overcrowded hospitals and supply issues for pharmacies that sell  OTC pediatric fever-reducing products.

“Our Flu Index shows activity 10 times higher compared to the same time last year. Providing convenient access to flu testing is another way Walgreens is helping support and protect local communities during a sustained surge of respiratory illness this winter,” said Anita Patel, PharmD, vice president of pharmacy services development at Walgreens.

“Having fast and reliable testing gives people the confidence to know what virus they may have and the ability to quickly take the necessary steps to be on their way to recovery,” added Lou Morrone, senior vice president of rapid diagnostics at Abbott. “By making our ID NOW COVID and flu rapid molecular tests available at select Walgreens locations across the United States, testing will be more accessible to more people and families as we gather during the holiday season.”

After making an appointment, those with flu-like symptoms will meet with a Walgreens pharmacist to receive one swab for a COVID-19 test and then one swab for a flu test. After the appointment, an email with a secure link to their results will be sent to those who were tested. “If an individual tests positive, a Walgreens pharmacist can reach out to their provider for a prescription or refer them to a primary care physician if they do not have one,” according to a press release.

Walgreens advises that those receiving the tests must be symptomatic and have flu testing done with COVID-19 testing to be eligible. In many cases, health insurance will cover the cost. Otherwise, the company says, if the claim is denied, the individual can be billed by Walgreens and, if applicable, by the laboratory for up to the full price of the test.

Meanwhile, pharmacies, even the largest chains, continue to have challenges related to the increased demand for OTC pediatric fever-reducing products. Some have initiated purchase limits. For Walgreens,  “an online only purchase limit of 6 per online transaction" was implemented, the company said in a press release in late December. In-store purchases were not limited at that point.

CVS, meanwhile, told media outlets that it was limiting purchases to two children’s pain-relief products in its stores and online.

In terms of products to help with symptoms, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA) said recently, “Manufacturers continue operating at maximum capacity to replenish children’s pain and fever reducers to meet current extraordinary demand.

While there is not a widespread shortage and our member companies are continuously shipping out products to retailers to replenish supply as quickly as possible, we recognize that limited products on store shelves is frustrating for parents and caregivers. With demand for these products increasing by 65% from this same time last year, we also understand why some retailers have voluntarily set limits on purchases to ensure the availability of these products to as many consumers as possible.”

While manufacturers are trying to meet demand at pharmacies, they also are “doing everything possible to make sure hospitals have children’s pain and fever reducers on hand,” the CHPA points out.

The group advises that pharmacists might remind customers that store brands contain the same active ingredients as their name-brand counterparts and that they might consider different product options for children aged older than 2 years if a liquid medicine is out of stock.

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