March 31, 2006

HHS has bought six million additional doses of antiviral medication to be used in case of a pandemic flu outbreak, bringing to 26 million the total number of courses purchased. HHS announced March 22 it has purchased 2.2 million more courses of GlaxoSmithKline's (GSK) antiviral Relenza (zanamivir) and 3.8 million doses of Roche's antiviral Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate).

The two antivirals are the only ones that have so far been shown to be effective against the deadly H5N1 virus, according to HHS. To date, the H5N1 virus has spread to 37 countries, infected 175 people and killed 96, according to the latest pandemic planning update posted on the HHS website.

The U.S. March 1 purchased 12.4 million treatment courses of Tamiflu and 1.75 million treatment courses of Relenza. An HHS spokesman could not verify whether these courses had been delivered and added to the existing 5.5 million treatment antiviral courses in the Strategic National Stockpile. The courses would be provided to states when pandemic influenza is considered imminent.

HHS said its short-term goal is to have enough antiviral doses to treat 20 million people, while the long-term goal is to have enough to treat 75 million people, or 25 percent of the U.S. population. By 2008, HHS said it plans to have a stockpile of 81 million courses.