States Still Reserving Vaccines for an Imaginary Pandemic
August 26, 2006
As states scramble to find money to purchase enough anti-flu drugs to treat a potential bird flu pandemic, some may fall short of the federal government's stated goal.
The federal government hopes that states will stockpile enough anti-flu drugs for 25 percent of the population.
States needed to indicate how many anti-virals they intended to buy through a discounted federal program by the end of July. States that confirm their numbers by the end of December will receive a federal subsidy covering 25 percent of their cost.
Doubtful That the Drugs Will Work
Although 43 states have asked the federal government to reserve their full allotments, funding is still uncertain for many. Many are seeking partners to share the cost, worried that the price tag will gut the funding to hospitals.
Some of the states not reserving their full allotments, such as Colorado, Montana, Connecticut, Nebraska and North Dakota, do not believe that buying the drugs is the best use of limited public health resources. Colorado officials, in particular, are doubtful that the drugs will work in the event of a pandemic.
Under the federal contract for state purchases, one course of Tamiflu costs $19 and one course of Relenza costs $22. If the states buy all 31 million treatments they are entitled to under the program, their cost will be roughly $465 million. In addition to this, the federal government plans to purchase outright 44 million courses for the states this fiscal year and next.
Throwing Drugs Away
These drugs are only for use in the event of a pandemic, and will have to be discarded if no pandemic occurs. The federal government has imposed this rule because letting states use pandemic supplies for regular flu would take future sales away from Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, which is selling the drugs at a discount for pandemic use only.
Bird flu has killed 135 people worldwide, and the virus has not, so far, spread easily among humans.