US to release flu medication from Strategic National Stockpile

To battle the current influenza surge, the Biden administration says it will release doses of the prescription medication Tamiflu from the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile.

Xavier Becerra, Department of Health and Human Services secretary, said in a press release that the government wants to make sure that “every jurisdiction can meet the increased demand for Tamiflu this flu season. State stockpiles can be utilized, and if jurisdictions need access to the Strategic National Stockpile, they now have it to respond to the current seasonal flu outbreak.”

The government has not yet disclosed how many doses of Tamiflu will be distributed from the stockpile.

Flu graphic image

The move comes in the face of the tripledemic that currently grips the country thanks to the spread of three viruses that attack the respiratory system: influenza, COVID-19, and RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus.

The surge in RSV, which usually affects children, seems to have subsided, but COVID-19 cases have been on the upswing, thanks in part to new subvariants that have proven to be more evasive of antibodies created through prior infection and/or vaccination.

Wednesday saw 61,833 new COVID-19 cases, while 407 people died from the virus, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

But influenza seems to be the main concern among health officials now.

The flu has hospitalized between 150,000 and 350,000 individuals and killed between 9,300 and 28,000 individuals so far this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The range points to difficulties in determining whether somebody suffers and/or dies more because of the flu, or because of some other condition.  

Dawn O’Connell, HHS’ assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said in the press release that “the country is more prepared for this surge because the SNS holds strategic stores of Tamiflu. As a result, jurisdictions will be able to get the support they need to keep Americans healthy as flu cases rise this winter.”

In a letter Becerra sent to governors on December 2, he wrote that “parts of the country are currently experiencing a confluence of respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, influenza (flu) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), especially among children, and this challenge is increasing strain on our health care and hospital systems.”

Becerra added that the federal government has “taken action to monitor the supply chain for critical drugs and devices, working closely with manufacturers and other groups in the supply chain and leveraging all the available tools to ensure adequate availability.”

Helen Chu, M.D., an infectious-disease physician and epidemiologist at the University of Washington, tells the New York Times that “the optimistic view is that we had an early, severe [flu] season, and that hopefully what will happen over the next couple of weeks is that all of the numbers will start going down. But the pessimistic view is that this is just the beginning, and then we’ll see a couple of later waves.”