States slow to sign up for Tamiflu subsidy

Jul 18, 2006 (CIDRAP News) – The federal government on Jun 30 announced a subsidy to help states buy the antiviral drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu) to build stockpiles in preparation for a potential influenza pandemic, but so far, few states have said they intend to use the program.

The states have until Aug 1 to indicate they want to purchase the discounted Tamiflu, said Marc Wolfson, a spokesman for the HHS Office of Public Health Emergency Preparedness in Washington. Wolfson told CIDRAP News that so far, four states have notified HHS that they plan to order the medication.

When HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt announced the program, he said the goal was to help states develop their own stockpiles, which would facilitate quicker distribution in a pandemic. HHS awarded a contract to Roche Laboratories, Inc, to sell oseltamivir to the states at a federally negotiated price, with the federal government paying 25% of the cost.

The $149 million contract with Roche provides for the purchase of up to 31 million treatment courses of the drug, according to HHS. These will be in addition to 44 million doses that HHS is buying for future distribution to the states for free, the agency said.

Each state and territory has been allocated a population-based amount of oseltamivir that HHS will provide at no cost and an additional amount under the subsidy program. For example, Colorado is due to receive 677,699 courses at no cost and can buy up to 477,470 courses at the subsidized price.

Wolfson said he hopes more states take HHS up on the subsidy. He said the Aug 1 deadline only requires states to declare their intent to participate; it does not obligate them to follow through. They have until Dec 29 to tell HHS how much they want to buy. “We’re hopeful that everyone’s going to participate,” Wolfson said.

Minnesota plans to buy about $1 million worth of the subsidized Tamiflu, said Aggie Leitheiser, director of emergency planning in the Minnesota Department of Health. According to a Jul 7 Associated Press (AP) report, officials from South Carolina, Utah, Alabama, Washington, Montana, Arizona, Oklahoma, and New Jersey have also expressed interest in participating.

In the AP report on the program, some state officials said they struggled with deciding how much antiviral medication to purchase. Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, recommends that states have some antiviral medication stockpiled for a pandemic outbreak. But he told the AP there was no right answer as to how much states should stockpile.

See also:

Jun 30 HHS press release on federal subsidy for state antiviral drug purchases
http://archive.hhs.gov/news/press/2006pres/20060630.html

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