The federal government is drawing on the national stockpile of the flu drug Tamiflu to relieve a shortage in the country.
The move comes as many locations across Canada report they are in the throes of an active flu season.
Dr. Barbara Raymond, director of pandemic preparedness for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said the move followed discussions between the agency and the drug's manufacturer, Roche Canada.
Higher-than-expected demand for the drug left the company suspecting it might not be able to fill its orders, so the Public Health Agency agreed to release some of its Tamiflu stock, Raymond said.
"That really unexpected increase in demand — far above other influenza seasons — has really depleted the usual stocks which in any other season would have been more than sufficient," she said in an interview from Ottawa.
"Given that we are still in the midst of influenza season and given that we certainly do not want to have any kind of supply disruption at this point in time, the Public Health Agency Canada … has elected to work with Roche to ensure that there will be no supply disruption."
Demand in last 3 months 'almost double' from last year
Roche Canada spokesperson Jane McCoubrey said the focus was on managing supply for the "priority patient population," meaning hospitals and nursing homes with a confirmed flue outbreak.
"We anticipate shortage to be quite short-lived," she added. "Through our current channels, we have secured additional supply to come in the first week of February."
McCoubrey said Roche informed Health Canada about the shortage and began discussions about an action plan last week.
The shortage is related to an unexpectedly severe cold season.
"In the last three months of 2012, the demand for Tamiflu has been almost double than what it was the entire previous year."
There was approximately 89,000 units of Tamilu consumed between Oct. 1, 2012 and Jan. 5, 2013. By comparison, 51,000 units were consumed between From Oct. 1, 2011 and Sept. 30, 2012.
"We had what we thought was ample supply based on previous years," McCoubrey said.
The stockpiled supplies will be released to Roche, which in turn will distribute the drug to where it is needed across the country.
Raymond said the amount of stockpiled drug to be released to Roche hasn't yet been finalized. But she said the government is confident that taking this move will not jeopardize Canada's pandemic preparedness position.
Raymond said the flu season so far has been brisk, with many hospital and long-term care facility outbreaks reported.