WASHINGTON -- The government has not stockpiled enough of the only drug known to be effective against bird flu but is in ''aggressive discussions" with its maker to buy more, federal health officials said yesterday.
Enough Tamiflu to treat 2.3 million people is in a national stockpile of drugs and vaccines being set aside in preparation for the next flu pandemic -- a worldwide outbreak influenza specialists fear could be triggered by the increasingly worrisome bird flu in Asia.
Negotiations are underway to buy enough Tamiflu pills for an additional 2 million people, with more purchases possible later.
That still would cover only 2 percent of the population, well short of World Health Organization recommendations that countries set aside enough Tamiflu for a quarter of their populations, said Representative Tom Davis, Republican of Virginia.
''Let me do the math for you: We're about 62 million people under the WHO guidelines," Davis said during a meeting of his House Government Reform Committee.
Other lawmakers wondered why the United States is not stockpiling as much as other countries. Manufacturer Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. told the committee that Britain, France, Finland, Norway, and New Zealand are placing orders that would cover between 20 percent and 40 percent of their populations.
With today's stockpile, ''certainly we don't have enough," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious-disease chief at the National Institutes of Health.
Officials would not estimate how much the nation needs. Other countries are depending mostly on Tamiflu to fight a bird flu outbreak, while the United States would use Tamiflu more to buy time until more inoculations could be made, said Dr. Bruce Gellin of the National Vaccine Program Office.