Turning to Mexico for flu shots
October 21, 2004
TIJUANA, Mexico – At the Viva Tijuana Plaza, 100 yards from the U.S. border, Americans buy everything from steroids to Viagra, mostly without a prescription. But even in this pharmaceutical mecca, it’s nearly impossible to get a simple flu shot.
Americans, especially retirees living along the border, have long relied on easy access to Mexico’s cheap drugs. So when a contaminated batch of vaccines caused an unexpected shortage in the United States, Mexico was a natural place to look.
Pharmacies from Tijuana on the Pacific to Matamoros on the Gulf of Mexico have been scrambling to meet demand as Americans head south for their annual flu shot. Pharmacists say they sometimes get dozens of requests each day, but most can’t fill the orders.
Mexican health authorities said pharmacies and private clinics can sell the vaccine with a prescription from a Mexican doctor, although drugstores often ignore that rule and require no prescription. Customers must give themselves the shot or pay a doctor to do it.
But pharmacies weren’t expecting such high demand and are now having trouble getting more supplies from international drug makers.
Americans were having more luck crossing the other U.S. border – into Canada, where there was a much more abundant supply and where some Canadian cities were even holding flu shot clinics for their desperate American neighbors.