Prescriptions filled for antiviral drugs increased 314% in the last three months of 2022 compared to last year, a new research shows.
The data was published last week by Evernorth, a subsidiary of Cigna. The Evernorth Research Institute examined pharmacy claims data for more than 16 million people to conduct the study.
Flu season usually runs from September to August. In the twelfth week of the 2022-2023 flu season, there were 1,093 members per 1 million who filled prescriptions for antiviral drugs. In the same period last year, there were 264 members per 1 million. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the number of flu vaccines distributed in the US was far lower in the 2022-2023 season compared to the 2021-2022 season and the 2020-2021 season.
“Our research shows that more people are getting the flu earlier this season and that their symptoms are severe enough to warrant a doctor’s visit and prescription, while flu vaccination rates are lower than in previous years.” , Urvashi Patel, vice president of the Evernorth Research Institute, said in an email.
Children have a greater need for flu medication than other age groups, the study also found.
“The higher prevalence may be the result of parents and guardians being more likely to seek medical care for their dependents,” Patel said in the report. “Adults themselves may not always seek medical help when they are ill, especially if their symptoms are mild.”
Location also plays a role, according to Evernorth. Southern states had a higher prevalence of antiviral drug use, with 1,639 members per 1 million filling prescriptions for antiviral drugs in the twelfth week of the flu season, compared with 845 in the Midwest, 927 in the Northeast, and 708 in the West. This correlates with lower flu vaccination rates in the South, the researchers said. Southern states have high rural populations that often struggle to access vaccines.
In addition, the use of influenza antiviral drugs varied by race and ethnicity, with greater use among people in areas of “highest social need,” the report said. This is consistent with others research it shows that blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and Alaska Natives have higher rates of hospitalization and intensive care unit admissions for influenza than white people.
Based on these findings, employers and payers should play a role in encouraging people to get the flu shot, Patel said.
“The best protection against the flu is vaccination. We recommend that employers and health plans encourage and facilitate their members to get vaccinated, such as through education, promoting health incentives and hosting on-site flu vaccine clinics,” he said in an email.
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