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Pharmacists Association: No need to hoard iodine tablets

Concerns about world events have been reflected in the demand for iodine, which can be used to prevent the absorption of radiation.

Strong iodine should only be taken if instructed to do so by the authorities. Image: Petteri Sopanen / Yle

Demand for strong iodine tablets has been higher than usual since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, with many pharmacies completely running out of stocks.

According to Charlotta Sandler, chief pharmaceutical officer of the Association of Finnish Pharmacies, iodine tablets have been widely inquired about in pharmacies since news broke of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"According to recommendations by the authorities, it is good to have iodine in the medicine cabinet at home. This is general preparedness that may have been forgotten by many Finns. But concern has grown in this current crisis," Sandler said.

She added that iodine tablets should not be hoarded or taken unless instructed by the authorities. Long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Finnish authorities recommended keeping strong iodine in the medicine cabinet in the event of a worst-case scenario, but there is no hurry to replenish the at-home stock under the current circumstances.

Each housing company in Finland has an obligation to store iodine tablets for its residents, and the National Emergency Supply Agency announced last week that there are considerable quantities of iodine tablets available in Finnish emergency storage facilities.

The statement itself is exceptional, as information related to the contents of the emergency supply is usually carefully guarded.

It has been difficult for pharmacies to prepare for the surprising increase in demand, as iodine sales are normally very low. Demand increases most often when crises around the world become a cause for concern for people in Finland.

Sandler said she wishes people would stock up on precautionary iodine and painkillers under normal circumstances, rather than wait for a crisis that causes a huge surge in demand.

"It would be a good idea to keep these medicines in the medicine cabinet just in case, as the demand for the medicines suddenly rises as concerns increase," she said, adding that the iodine supply is not exhausted, but there are not many pre-packaged iodine pills in pharmacies right now.

More are expected to be delivered next week.

There is currently no need to take tablets in Finland

Both Sandler and Maarit Muikku, the laboratory director of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, say that there is currently no need to take iodine tablets in Finland.

Strong iodine is intended to protect the thyroid gland in the event of a nuclear power plant accident or nuclear explosion.

"An iodine tablet is not a miracle cure for radiation, it only prevents the accumulation of radioactive iodine in the thyroid gland," Muikku explained.

Iodine is an element needed in the human body to make thyroid hormones. In nuclear accidents, radioactive isotopes can be released into the air, which, when it accumulates in the thyroid gland, can cause organ failure or cancer.

A strong, single dose of an iodine tablet saturates the thyroid gland with regular iodine, preventing radioactive iodine from accumulating in the gland.

The iodine tablet should be taken only when recommended by the authorities, Muikku added, as it is important to ingest at precisely the right time. Taking it too soon or too late reduces the protective effect of the tablet.

Jodix tablets in pharmacies contain a dose nearly a thousand times higher than a person's daily iodine requirements. Overuse or overdosing can cause severe thyroid dysfunction.

The tablet only protects the thyroid gland. In a real emergency, the most important way for a person to protect themself would be to remain indoors and close all doors, windows and ventilation points.

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