House Members Criticize Bush’s Pandemic Flu Preparedness Plan
Members of the House Government Reform Committee on Friday at a hearing "sharp[ly]" criticized the Bush administration's $7.1 billion pandemic flu preparedness plan, saying it "shortchang[es] states" and does too little to "boost supplies of the antiviral drug Tamiflu," CQ HealthBeat reports.
State and local health officials have expressed concern about a provision in the plan that calls for states to pay 75% of the cost of purchasing 31 million doses of Roche Holding's Tamiflu. The cost to states will be $510 million.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said that amount is an "untenable cash burden" for states recovering from budget difficulties. He added that under the plan, residents of states facing greater budget problems could have a greater risk of dying (CQ HealthBeat, 11/4).
Committee Chair Tom Davis (R-Va.) praised the Bush administration for taking a "proactive" stance on pandemic flu but added he has "already heard concerns" from the Virginia Department of Health about the "limited amount of money for stockpiling the federally recommended amounts of antiviral treatments" (Klein, CongressDaily, 11/4).
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) also expressed concern about a proposal to reduce federal funding for state and local health preparedness efforts by $130 million. He said the amount is offset only partly by a Bush administration plan that would provide states with $100 million to improve public health. Waxman also called the administration's plan to put the Department of Homeland Security -- rather than HHS -- in charge of coordinating federal response to a pandemic a "huge misjudgment" and said the proposed liability protection for vaccine manufacturers without accompanying provisions for victim compensation could cause first responders to avoid vaccination.
In addition, Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) urged HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt to require Roche to license other companies to make Tamiflu.
Leavitt said criticisms about the provision regarding states' purchase of Tamiflu are misleading. He noted that the federal government -- which has said it will purchase 50 million doses of Tamiflu on its own, in addition to paying 25% of the cost of the 31 million doses the states must buy -- effectively is paying 70% of the cost of purchasing all 81 million doses.
Leavitt also responded to the concerns about the planned cut of $130 million for public health preparedness efforts, saying the federal government actually is shifting funding from one public health program to another and that the action should be seen in the context of "billions" of dollars in post-Sept. 11 grants to state and local governments to prepare for a bioterrorist attack or other threat. Leavitt said Roche has assured the federal government that it will supply adequate quantities of Tamiflu and that any company that received a license from Roche to manufacture Tamiflu would not be able to do so for a year because of the complexity of the manufacturing process.
In addition, Leavitt said that if Roche were compelled to license other companies to produce Tamiflu, it would damage incentives to produce other antivirals. He predicted that the U.S. would have 20 million doses of Tamiflu by the end of 2006 and 80 million doses by the summer of 2007 (CQ HealthBeat, 11/4).
Leavitt noted that Tamiflu has not yet been proven as a treatment for avian flu, adding, "Any sense that Tamiflu is synonymous with preparedness is wrong" (CongressDaily, 11/4).
In related news, Roche for the first time on Monday provided details on its production capacity for Tamiflu, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to Roche, the company expects to produce 300 million doses of Tamiflu by the end of next year.
The company said it will have increased production of the drug tenfold by the end of 2006 compared with 2004 and will select possible partners for more detailed discussions on licensing production of the drug by the end of November(Greil, Wall Street Journal, 11/7).
Meanwhile, health experts from around the world are meeting in Geneva this week to consider a global strategy to address avian flu, Reuters/New York Daily News reports.
The talks, hosted by the World Health Organization, are expected to result in a "sweeping plan against the disease," David Nabarro, senior U.N. coordinator for avian and human influenza, said (Reuters/New York Daily News, 11/7).
USA Today on Monday published an interview with Robert Coury, CEO of Mylan Laboratories, which is one of the companies in talks with Roche to sub-license Tamiflu. Topics discussed include the possibility of mass production of Tamiflu, the economic implications of Roche licensing production of the drug to other companies and the threat of a flu pandemic resulting from avian flu (Insana, USA Today, 11/7).
The following articles also featured avian flu developments.
- "Changing Vaccine Systems No Easy Shot: Cell-Culture Technology Bush Advocates Would Require Major Investment by Manufacturers" (Roylance, Baltimore Sun, 11/6).
- "Sentries in U.S. Seek Early Signs of an Avian Flu" (McNeil, New York Times, 11/6).
- "Hitting the Flu at Its Source, Before It Hits Us" (McNeil, New York Times, 11/6).
- "Is a Bird Flu Drug Really So Vexing? Debating How Difficult It Is To Make Tamiflu" (Pollack, New York Times, 11/5).
- "When Killer Germ Stalks, It's a Matter of Life, Death and Surgical Masks: The Worry About Bird Flu Feels Familiar to a Survivor of China's SARS Epidemic" (Hu, Philadelphia Inquirer, 11/6).
- "Firms Ponder Bird Flu Scenarios: Plans Evolve To Cope With Sick Workers, Travel Restrictions" (Armour, USA Today, 11/7).
- "Long-Predicted Flu Finally Tops Agenda" (Brown, Washington Post, 11/7).
- "Leaders Share Flu Pandemic Concerns: Federal Plan Prompts a Deeper Look Into Worst-Case Health, Business Scenarios" (Levine, Washington Post, 11/7).
NPR's "Talk of the Nation/Science Friday" included an interview with Thomas Inglesby, deputy director of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, about the federal flu pandemic preparedness plan (Flatow, "Talk of the Nation/Science Friday," NPR, 11/4). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer. In addition, the program included a discussion of the limitations of current vaccine production methods and alternative methods, including DNA and cell-based methods. Guests on the segment included Peter Dunnill, chair of the Department of Biochemical Engineering at University College in London, and Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (Flatow, "Talk of the Nation/Science Friday," NPR, 11/4). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.