Hawaii applies for full allotment of anti-flu medicine
Hawaii did not wait for the Aug. 1 deadline to put its name down for more than 100,000 doses of anti-flu medicine the state could buy with federal help to prepare for a possible pandemic.
As soon as officials were notified about a week ago of the number of anti-flu doses the federal government would make available to Hawaii, letters were sent to both federal officials and the medicine's maker, Roche Laboratories Inc.
"We do have our foot in every door we can get it into," said Dr. Chiyome Fukino, director of the state Department of Health.
To prepare for the possibility of a pandemic, the federal government is stockpiling Tamiflu and other anti-flu medications, which can reduce the symptoms associated with influenza. The Bush administration plans to buy enough to treat 44 million people.
States have the option buy more if they want, with the federal government paying a quarter of the costs, up to a prescribed amount for each state.
In all, states could use the subsidy to buy anti-flu medications for an additional 31 million people. The Department of Health and Human Services had set a July 1 deadline for states to indicate whether they would move forward with the purchase. That deadline was later extended to Aug. 1.
Hawaii has been allocated 131,111 doses under the subsidized program.
And the state plans to buy every one of them using the more than $11 million allocated by the Legislature in a bill passed this session to prepare the state for a novel strain of influenza virus, Fukino said.
Once that purchase is made, the islands will have a total of more than 317,000 doses stockpiled for its use.
That is enough for just about a quarter of the state's population, which is the amount authorities estimate states should be prepared to treat in the event of a flu pandemic, Fukino said.
Not every state jumped at the chance to purchase the new doses of medicine.
Oklahoma's lawmakers allocated enough money to purchase only about 7 percent of the more than 368,000 it could have purchased with the help of federal funds. The state's epidemiologist, Dr. Brett Cauthen, said the state was struggling to figure out just how much insurance against a pandemic Oklahoma really needs.
Officials fear that the H5N1 virus -- which birds have carried from Asia to the Middle East, Europe and Africa -- could mutate and spread from human to human. According to the World Health Organization, at least 229 people are known to have contracted bird flu since 2003, and 131 have died.
As a tourist destination that draws a good portion of its visitors from Asia, Hawaii has been taking care to prepare for the possibility of a pandemic, which includes developing protocols to potentially quarantine an entire jet should a passenger test positive for a suspect virus.
"I don't think anybody is ever going to be a 100 percent prepared, but we are much more prepared than we ever have been," Fukino said. "And we keep working on being even more prepared."