A person shaking iodine tablets onto their palm in Vantaa in July 2022. Pharmacies across Finland ran out of iodine tablets on Tuesday, 11 October, following the publication of new guidelines by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. (Mikko Stig – Lehtikuva)

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MANY PHARMACIES in Finland have run out of iodine tablets following the publication of new guidelines by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, report YLE and Helsingin Sanomat.

The Finnish public broadcasting company wrote yesterday that the tablets were out of stock in pharmacies across the country, including in Joensuu, Kuusamo, Oulu, Tampere and Turku. The spike in demand also slowed down laakehaku.fi, a site offering information on the availability of pharmaceuticals, and momentarily brought down the webshop of Yliopiston Apteekki.

Orion, the producer of the only iodine product suitable for the age group referred to in the guidelines (3–40-year-olds), told Helsingin Sanomat that pharmacies should be re-stocked by the end of this month.

“We’ll provide further details once the timetable is clarified,” a spokesperson at the pharmaceutical giant said to the newspaper.

Elina Asola, a senior specialist at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, admitted that the ministry was surprised by the demand spike caused by the guideline update.

“We realised that publishing the guideline could lead to hoarding, but at the same time we knew that plenty of iodine tablets had already been sold this year. We thought that pharmacies had already replenished their stocks,” she explained.

Demand for iodine tablets surged also last spring. According to Helsingin Sanomat, a total of 4.7 million tablets have been sold in the country since Russia began its brutal invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

“We didn’t think that the same would happen again. On Tuesday, we noticed that publishing the guideline has resulted in people flocking to pharmacies in high numbers,” said Asola.

While she expressed her regret that the ministry was unable to inform all stakeholders about the new guidelines, she pointed out that the task force appointed to draft the guidelines included the Association of Finnish Pharmacies. Also Orion, she added, was aware of the update and its publication date.

“Private pharmacies have been informed. They were aware of the content of the guidelines and their publication date,” told Asola.

Charlotta Sander, the director of pharmaceutics at the Association of Finnish Pharmacies, said the association was involved in the drafting of the guidelines and aware of their publication date, but added that the association only informs pharmacies upon a specific request from the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

The association was informed of the guidelines’ final content last week, but the notification made no mention of communication.

“[Had the ministry asked the association to prepare earlier], then we could’ve alerted others in the pharmaceutical supply chain that it’s necessary to order high quantities of iodine to pharmacies. I’m sure we could’ve done that in a couple of weeks,” she commented. “We can learn from this with the ministry and agree on procedures that allow us to avoid these kinds of things going forward.”

Sander also pointed to the manner in which the update was picked up in the media. “The angle from which the update was brought up in the media and how it caused concern among the public was surprising,” she said.

The guidelines have a couple of new features.

Public health care services will procure iodine products that are suitable for children under three years of age for distribution at maternity and child health clinics, for example. Iodine products are no longer recommended for over 40-year-olds in any circumstances because they do not have the same kind of risk of developing thyroid cancer in the event of exposure to radioactive iodine, a radiation hazard.

Households with members between the ages of 3 and 40 are recommended to keep iodine tablets on hand.

“The biggest change is that iodine use is no longer deemed necessary for over 40-year-olds in any circumstances,” summed up Taneli Puumalainen, a director at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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