the Tamiflu scam

I read today that Tamiflu - the drug that supposedly helps get you better when you have the flu - is now available in ample supply, so Roche doesn't need to make any more. What a scam this is, all taking advantage of public hysteria over the "bird flu" threat (more precisely, the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of avian influenza virus). Roche advertises Tamiflu on its own website as for both flu prevention and treatment - first of all, there is no evidence I know of that Tamiflu will prevent the flu. If you want to avoid it, get the flu shot, which is a vaccine, and is usually quite effective. Second, the best result you can get with Tamiflu is by taking it right after you get sick, and even then it just shortens the duration of flu symptoms by 1 or 2 days. Not very effective, right? By the time you have the flu, you're usually way too sick to go to your doctor and get a prescription - and you shouldn't even do that, because if you do you're likely to infect others. And finally, we don't have any good evidence that Tamiflu works at all against avian flu.

Meanwhile, though, Roche has got governments (including our own) stockpiling the stuff! And the government officials in charge proudly point to their efforts as if they were doing something about bird flu. What nonsense. If they really want to do something, we need to invest in - and approve - a better, more rapid way to make the vaccine. Right now we make it by growing the virus in chicken eggs - a 50-year-old method that is far too slow and wasteful. We could grow it in cell culture much more quickly and more flexibly (they already do this in Europe), but no company seems interested in trying to get a new method through the laborious FDA approval process. The US gov't ought to just fund this directly, and stop paying for stockpiles of Tamiflu.

UPDATE: Today (May 1) I read this headline: "Roche questions world´s flu pandemic readiness". Turns out that Roche is criticizing the WHO for failing to buy even more Tamiflu! Unbelievable. The spokesman for Roche said, in a press release, "... we believe there is still a long way to terms of meeting treatment preparedness...that could dramatically reduce death rates." This is absurd - Tamiflu doesn't reduce death rates - there is no evidence at all of that - and furthermore, they don't even have evidence that it is particularly effective against avian flu. They're just trying to hype their product and increase sales by scaring people. This is the worst sort of corporate greed. The WHO already has 30 million capsules, and Roche says that governments have ordered an astounding 2.15 billion capsules, all because of fear of bird flu - but this profit windfall isn't enough for them. Their behavior is disgraceful.


  1. It's even worse than that -- according to this article

    there's reports that Tamiflu use has been linked to self-injury and delirium, especially in children. Nice. Real nice.

  2. Good point - the Japanese apparently use Tamiflu (as I read elsewhere) much more widely than we do in the US or Europe, and they are experiencing these bad side effects as a result. I suspect that if we start using it more widely here, we'll see the same thing, more frequently that is.

  3. Worked great for me reduced the effects and shortened it as a whole.


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