State planning to stockpile flu drugs
By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Mike Leidemann
The state is moving to acquire enough medicine to treat 350,000 residents and visitors in the event of a worldwide flu outbreak, Health Department officials said yesterday.
Officials signed contracts last month with drug companies to provide the antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza for use in Hawai'i during a flu pandemic, said Dr. Sara Park, DOH deputy chief for disease outbreak.
The state's share of the drug costs will be about $2.8 million, and delivery is expected early next year, she said. "Our goal is to have enough on hand to treat about 25 percent of the resident and visitor population if there is an outbreak," Park said.
The contracts follow a report issued in May that recommends stockpiling the drugs and taking other steps to prepare for a possible pandemic, which could include regular season influenza, avian flu or another type of flu outbreak.
The federal government is donating about 186,000 treatment courses to the state and will pay 75 percent of the costs for the state to acquire 164,000 treatments, Park said.
That will free other state authorized funds to be used in different flu pandemic projects, including the development of a patient tracking database system and enhancing laboratory diagnostic procedures. "Every state is assessing its needs and resources and we are one of the first ones to actually go ahead and order the drugs," she said.
That's important because the drug companies have said orders will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis, Park said.
"Since we're alone in the middle of the ocean, we wanted to make sure that we have the necessary resources on hand to deal with a pandemic," she said.
The state signed the contracts outside the regular bidding process because there is only one company, Roche Laboratories, capable of producing the needed quantities of Tamiflu, Park said.
A normal course of treatment with the drugs involves taking two capsules a day for up to 10 days, she said. The drugs are most effective when taken within 24 to 48 hours of the first symptoms appearing.
In the event of a flu pandemic, the limited drug supplies would be distributed from state pharmacies and distributors to health-care providers at designated centers. Priority for treatment would be determined according to federal guidelines, according to the state pandemic influenza plan.
The drug is designed to treat the flu and help curb its spread. It is not the same as a vaccine against a pandemic virus, which is not yet available, state officials said.
In November, Hawai'i became the first state in the nation to establish an airport surveillance program designed to detect flu viruses and other serious communicable diseases in arriving passengers. The program, which offers voluntary flu tests, was launched in the Queen's Airport Medical Service, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Quarantine Station and the state Department of Health.
The Department of Health this year finalized a plan for dealing with a pandemic flu in the state, and is consulting with businesses, schools and others about how to best deal with such a crisis.
In addition to stockpiling the antiviral drug, the plan calls for development of an operations center that would go into action at the first signs of a pandemic-level virus, survey the spread of the disease and isolate and quarantine infected individuals.
Hospitals, civil defense, police and firefighters are among the traditional sources called to the forefront in case of such an emergency, but health officials say effective reaction to pandemic flu would also require planning at all community levels.
Reach Mike Leidemann at email@example.com.
Correction: The company that manufactures the anti-viral drug Tamiflu is Roche Laboratories. It was misspelled in a previous version of this story.