What Tamiflu Hoarding Says About Us

During the first week of November 2009, my little town on the Massachusetts South Shore received 100 of the 14,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine that it requested.  Why we would have requested 14,000 doses when there are maybe 11,000 people in the town, I have no idea, but that is how the Boston Globe reported it.  (We live in a time where all news media must be questioned on whether they got their facts straight.)  Only pregnant women who can prove residency and pregnancy will be given the vaccine.  I’m not in a high risk demographic.  I got my regular flu shot, and I’ll wait along with everybody else for the H1N1 vaccine.  I’m ok with that.

A couple weeks ago, an NPR radio news item mentioned that Ropes & Gray, a big Boston (national and international) legal firm, had stockpiled Tamiflu for their employees.  Isn’t that nice?  And you can bet that is not one of the items their website includes in their “News” section.  On the off chance that you think I’m making this up, the Boston Globe carried an editorial on November 3rd entitled  Swine Flu: Firms shouldn’t hoard drugs. ( http://bit.ly/2MlCzl ) The points being made are that  (1) using drugs where they are not needed encourages drug-resistant strains to develop and  (2) it could lead to shortages.  The editorial concludes with: “Ropes & Gray should quit hoarding and have its employees await their doctors’ orders like most of the rest of the world.”

The American Bar Association Journal (ABA Journal) published a piece pointing to the above mentioned Boston Globe article.  ABA Journal writes “Ropes & Gray is among about 300 companies that have arranged for special supplies of the drug to combat the swine flu virus. Ropes & Gray employees will be able to get a Tamiflu prescription while they are healthy so they can take the drug when they have flu symptoms.”  ( http://bit.ly/3wxoOd )  Some 300 companies so far in 2009 are stockpiling Tamiflu.  (1) Do you think drug resistant H1N1 might be the real pandemic we’re all so afraid of?  (2) Do you think massive hoarding might LEAD to a shortage?

After searching the net for a little while, I gave up trying to find a list of the 300 companies, but a few names do pop up.  Big banks like HSBC are ordering it, and Roche Korea, who produces Tamifu, illegally told 10 multinationals how to illicitly obtain the drug by generating fake prescriptions to enable stockpiling.  ( http://bit.ly/3S7WSF )  23 multinational companies, hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, all told, were caught illegally distributing Tamiflu.

Mind you, this is not the first time this hoarding problem has surfaced.  I found a 2005 DOTmed.com article supposedly from CNN Health entitled CDC Quiet on Tamiflu Hoarding ( http://bit.ly/13YMn9 ) but the link to the full article results in a “page not found”.  Hmmm.  A related news piece on 10/27/05 at health.dailynewscentral.com ( http://bit.ly/1CwSy7 ) covers Roche suspending shipments to (private buyers in) the US because of corporate hoarding. “We’ve seen recently some very large purchases at the wholesale level, companies or large entities who are possibly hoarding Tamiflu right now,” said Darien Wilson, spokeswoman at Roche’s US offices in New Jersey.  This last article goes on to say “The American Medical Association is against personal stockpiling and says the misuse of Tamiflu could lead to drug-resistant flu strains.”

And on October 31st of 2005 Noah Adams of NPR interviewed Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, confirming the hoarding, the issues, and Roche’s real reason to suspend private shipments more likely being due to commitments already made to governments which had to be filled first.  ( http://bit.ly/24lYie )  The New York Times had an article dated October 27th, 2005 ( http://bit.ly/1hWAOw ) which includes the statement “Some infectious disease experts say that personal or corporate stockpiling could result in the drug’s being wasted or used improperly, which would contribute to shortages in the future or allow the virus to become resistant to the medicine” and concludes with the observation that the majority of attendees at an October 2005 meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America either had stockpiled or were considering stockpiling Tamiflu at home.  Hmmmm.

There were a lot of 2005 based articles, fewer in 2006, 2007 and 2008.  But 2009 has an explosion of articles on Tamiflu hoarding and vaccines.

Come on, admit it… if you had the option of having some Tamiflu in the back of your refrigerator, wouldn’t you do it?  Of course you would.  You’d be crazy not to protect yourself and your family.  And as one libertarian put it, “Why is it stockpiling when the government buys it in advance and hoarding when I buy a few tablets?”

If a serious, deadly pandemic begins to sweep portions of the world, it would be best to have the supply of Tamiflu internationally managed by the World Health Organization.  I’m not an expert, but as I understand it, it would take many Tamiflu tablets to ward off getting the flu (prophylaxis) and relatively fewer tablets to help those who are actually sick fight off the flu and recover.  What is the best use of the world’s supply?  And best for whom?

The problem I have with this hoarding situation, other than the two issues repeated over and over above, is that it emphasizes how the USA has morphed into a country of haves and have nots.  Many of the current “have nots” used to be part of our middle class.  They were factory workers, white collar workers, and other hardworking average Americans who drew the short straw in the economics of the late 20th and early 21st Century USA.

It also illustrates the difference between Republicans and Democrats. Democrats believe we’re all in it together and we can work through our problems together.  Republicans believe you’re on your own.  One look at the healthcare “debate” this year makes that very clear.  I continue to be amazed that the Republican party has convinced so many people to vote against their own best interests.  That these same people cloak their shameful behavior in religious rhetoric is repulsive.

If the Tamiflu hoarding topic interests you, I recommend a long, thought provoking article written in 2006: The Dilemma of Personal Tamiflu Stockpiling by Peter Sandman and Jody Lanard.     http://bit.ly/2mkYO7 Sometimes it’s nice to look at a reasonably analytical piece where the arguments on all sides are listed and evaluated.  I thank them for that effort.

That aside for the moment, what H1N1 vaccine management and Tamiflu distribution management tells me is that we humans are still operating on Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs.  We protect ourselves and our tribe(s) from danger as best we can.  And that, my friends, is why we have government.  As citizens of a town, a state, a country, the world, we look to our governments to protect us physically and economically.  Let’s not forget that governments can do beneficial things we individually cannot.

If Ropes & Gray and HSBC were not afraid, they would not hoard.  They are, they can, so they do.  So would most of us.  WWJD?  What SHOULD our towns, our states, our governments be doing?  You tell me.

Personally, I resent the arrogance of the hoarders.  But it isn’t illegal.  Yet.

What it also tells me is that either you trust the government to manage the supply of vaccines and Tamiflu or you don’t.  The divide on trust and a sense of community on one hand and hoarding on the other seems to be roughly 50/50.  Which is just about the divide between Democrats and Republicans.  Hmmmm.

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