Friday, December 11, 2009

Are Tamiflu sales for H1N1 a scam?

For every crisis, there are people eager to jump in and make some money off of the fears of others. After 9/11, bogus sellers of "terrorism kits" (i.e. duct tape, plastic sheeting, and candles) popped up all over. H1N1 (i.e. Swine Flu) is one of our current crises, and it appears that we may have found out that overinflated claims for Tamiflu may indicate it is the next scam targeting our fears.

The Cochrane team eventually concluded that the evidence that Tamiflu reduces complications, hospitalizations, or deaths is weak at best, and if the drug does offer any benefit, it is slight indeed. This is precisely the conclusion of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). As we reported in our story in The Atlantic, the FDA directed Roche to state on the drug’s label the following caveat: “Tamiflu has not been proven to have a positive impact on the potential consequences (such as hospitalizations, mortality, or economic impact) of seasonal, avian, or pandemic influenza.” An FDA spokesperson told the BMJ, "The clinical trials . . . failed to demonstrate any significant difference in rates of hospitalization, complications, or mortality in patients receiving either Tamiflu or placebo.” Yet in the wake of the H1N1 pandemic, the FDA gave temporary approval for the drug to be given to hospitalized flu patients, who are at risk of dying.

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