The state’s executive council is being asked to approve spending nearly five million dollars to stockpile anti-viral drugs that would be used if there’s a massive flu outbreak. The request was made today. A decision’s expected in two weeks.
Iowa Department of Public Health director Mary Mincer-Hansen says there were three world-wide “pandemics” in the last century. “We have an opportunity now to prepare that we didn’t have previously in history, so we’re taking full advantage of that opportunity,” Mincer-Hansen says. The four-point-eight million dollars will buy three-hundred-10 courses of two common medications — one’s a pill, the other a mist — that are used to guard against the flu.
The federal government arranged to pay 25 percent of the cost for those medications, if states buy during a designated period. “So we want to take advantage of that federal subsidy,” Mincer-Hansen says. “They’ve given us a window in which to purchase (the drugs). When you put your purchase in, then we get in line to get them so we want to make sure that we’re in line to get them.”
The medications have a five-year shelf life, but Mincer-Hansen says that’s no indication she expects a pandemic flu outbreak in the next five years. She says there’s no way to predict when a new flu virus will mutate from affecting swine or birds to people.
“We are not able to predict when this would happen but again, we always want to be prepared,” Mincer-Hansen says. The last major flu pandemic occurred in 1918. Two others in the 1950s and 1960s were not as severe.
“We want to be very clear. We have no idea how severe it will be when it occurs,” Mincer-Hanson says. The state will stockpile enough anti-viral medication to treat 25 percent of the state’s population.
The public health director says the federal government is drafting guidelines for who should get the medication, but she expects it to be similar to the dispensing rules for the flu vaccine — putting the very young, the very old and health care professionals who come into contact with the sick at the head of the list.