Governments have flu meds--now what?

As governments around the world stock up on antiflu medications and contract for vaccine supplies, they're also having to tackle some ticklish distribution issues. Countries that don't have enough drugs stockpiled when the pandemic gets in full swing will have to figure out how to allocate their scarce meds. And the U.K.--which saw a 100,000-case surge in swine flu last week--is already running into distribution bottlenecks.

First, the London snafu: The government has set up some 120 distribution centers for antiviral meds--which might be sufficient, except for the fact that they're unequally distributed across the city. And some of those distribution points are pharmacies that close early in the evenings and/or on weekends. "We are going to have stampedes with loads of nervous people all trying to get Tamiflu," John Lister of London Health Emergency told the London Paper. "It does seem that the Government [hasn't] thought this through."

Meanwhile, researchers are tackling the problem of shortages of antivirals. Governments that don't have enough drugs to treat 25 percent of their populations--as the WHO recommends--should prioritize treatment based on age-specific fatality rates, according to a study in the BioMed Central Infectious Diseases journal. The recommendations apply to "many countries" whose stockpiles of Roche's Tamiflu and/or GlaxoSmithKline's Relenza are "well below the suggested minimum," one of the researchers told Bloomberg. "Although a policy of age-specific prioritization of antiviral use will be controversial ethically," the study said, "it may be the most efficient use of stockpiled therapies." 

Governments that do have sufficient stockpiles might consider giving antivirals to young people for preventive use, the researchers suggest. Treating all H1N1 cases, plus preventive treatment in the young, can significantly reduce the spread of flu, they found.

- see the story in the London Paper
- read the Bloomberg piece

ALSO: U.S. health officials said H1N1 virus could strike up to 40 percent of Americans over the next two years and as many as several hundred thousand could die if a vaccine campaign and other measures aren't successful. Report