Okla. Lawmakers Examine State Preparations for Pandemic

December 4, 2007

Lawmakers in Oklahoma questioned whether the state would be prepared in the event of an influenza pandemic during a legislative study conducted by state Rep. Lee Denney.

Lawmakers and other officials recently met at the Oklahoma State Department of Health to look for ways to improve Oklahoma’s emergency health system if Oklahoma is ever plagued with a contagious and deadly pandemic.

“This is a very serious matter that could be detrimental to all Oklahomans’ health and even lives. This is the kind of issue that tends to land on the back burner because people think it will ‘never happen,’ but history has shown this kind of thing can happen and we need to be prepared if or when it does,” said Denney, R-Cushing.

History has shown the reoccurring spread of pandemics even in the past century with the Spanish Flu in 1918 killing 500,000; the Asian Flu in 1957 killing 70,000; and the Hong Kong Flu in 1968 killing 34,000.

According to State Epidemiologist and State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Kristy Bradley, if Oklahoma is hit with another pandemic influenza at least 25 percent to 30 percent of Oklahomans would be exposed to the virus, affecting as many as 875,000 citizens.

Denney said both the Oklahoma Health Department and the Oklahoma Terrorism and Response Service, along with other healthcare officials, have been working hard to prepare Oklahoma for a healthcare emergency – including infectious, environmental and terrorist threats.

Post 9-11, many plans and programs have been put into place to improve disease surveillance, increase laboratory and hospital capacity, enhance communication techniques, offer free preparedness training to healthcare personnel, create MRC (Medical Reserve Corps) trained volunteers to help during disasters, create an Oklahoma medical stockpile of medical supplies and medications, implement electronic disease online reporting and tracking, and other significant measures.

Bradley said a pandemic flu could be an easily spread new strand of virus for which no vaccination would be available for prevention until three to six months into the pandemic.

One course of action suggested by health officials is to stockpile medical material and anti-viral medications. Currently, only two companies manufacture anti-viral medications, Tamiflu and Relenza, designed to help contain and treat a pandemic once an individual is infected.

However, stockpiling those treatments can be costly. The state is required to pay 75 percent of the cost with the Federal government paying 25 percent. Neighboring states Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri stockpiled these medications in sufficient quantities to handle a massive outbreak.

But Denney and other House members are concerned that the medications have only a five-year shelf life.

Although Mike Wright, spokesperson for Roche manufacturer of Tamiflu, said the company is giving states an 80-percent discount on the medication, states still pay $14.43 per dose (10 capsules). As a result, the state of Oklahoma would have to spend nearly $10 million to stockpile enough medicine to treat a massive outbreak – and the cost would be recurring every five years.

Denney said the issue needs to stay in the forefront and that “the Legislature needs to do its part to ensure Oklahoma is prepared and funding is used effectively.”

Source: Oklahoma House of Representatives

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