Saturday, October 22, 2005


Since the post-9/11 terrorist scare, we’ve become the generation of duct tape and plastic sheeting, the generation of knee jerk panic reactions and home security. So it’s no surprise that with all the reports on Avian flu, Americans have started stockpiling Tamiflu, the drug shown to help prevent influenza. In the abstract, there is nothing wrong with Americans taking responsibility for their own health, but the Washington Post is reporting that personal stockpiles of the drug might reduce supply to the point of hampering a government response to an outbreak of Avian Flu.
The trend worries many physicians and public health experts because widespread home stockpiling could undermine international efforts to fight a flu pandemic. Some doctors are refusing their patients' requests except in special circumstances.

"I do know that I personally can't give everybody who wants Tamiflu a prescription for it. It just doesn't seem right to me," said Harry Oken, 51, an internist in Columbia. "If there really was an avian flu epidemic, people who don't need it have it, and people who really need it can't get it."
Call it old-fashioned American self-interest, or call it lack of trust in the government’s ability to respond to a large scale disaster (I wonder why?), but this is a worrisome trend. Like it or not the federal government is the only agency capable of reacting to a public health crisis on a national scale. If pandemic does hit and there’s a snatch and grab for all the available medicine, we’ll see the Katrina dynamic all over again: those with the means to take care of themselves will, those without the means will get sick and possibly die.

--Matthew McCoy