Are We Ready for the Bird Flu?

BRIAN ROSS: So if we're hit by this epidemic, there's not going to be vaccine for everybody.


BRIAN ROSS: But while there's no vaccine to stop the flu, there is one medicine to treat it and only one. Made at this plant in Switzerland by the Roche pharmaceutical company, it's called Tamiflu.

ADVERTISEMENT VOICE, MALE: If you feel flu-ish, see your doctor early.

BRIAN ROSS: Roche has been selling Tamiflu for years, but it was only recently that scientists realized it is the one medicine so far proven effective against the killer flu, H5N1. And that has created a huge demand and a critical shortage.

BRIAN ROSS: The whole world wants what's coming out of that one plant in Switzerland.


BRIAN ROSS: Can they supply the whole world?

LAURIE GARRETT: No. All of the wealthiest countries in the world are trying to purchase stockpiles of Tamiflu. Our stockpile is around 2.5 million courses of treatment.

BRIAN ROSS: And the government knows that at least, or predicts, 200 million people would be infected?

LAURIE GARRETT: Looks like we have a shortage.

BRIAN ROSS: How many doses do we have of Tamiflu?

MICHAEL LEAVITT: Our objective is to have 20 million doses of Tamiflu, or enough for 20 million people.


MICHAEL LEAVITT: No, we don't have that today, but most ...

BRIAN ROSS: How much do we have today?

MICHAEL LEAVITT: Currently, we have about 6 million that have been both ordered and will be delivered this year.

BRIAN ROSS: On hand today?

MICHAEL LEAVITT: No, we have 2 million that are on hand today.

BRIAN ROSS: How is it that we don't have more?

MICHAEL LEAVITT: Well, first of all, no one does.

BRIAN ROSS: But officials in Australia say they do have more. And in Great Britain, officials say they will soon have enough for 1/4 of the population.

PROFESSOR JOHN OXFORD, ROYAL LONDON HOSPITAL: I think at the moment, with 2.5 million doses, it -you're pretty vulnerable.

BRIAN ROSS: European health officials at a conference this week in Malta said they were astonished at the U.S. lack of planning. Professor John Oxford of the Royal London Hospital.

PREOFESSOR JOHN OXFORD: The lack of advanced planning up to the moment in the United States in the sense of not having a huge stockpile, which I think your citizens deserve, has surprised me and I've been rather dismayed about it.

BRIAN ROSS: Faced with worldwide demand, the Roche company, which makes Tamiflu, has set up a first come, first serve waiting list with the United States nowhere near the top.

MICHAEL LEAVITT: Do we wish we had ordered it sooner and more of it? I suspect one could say, yes. Are we moving rapidly to assure that we have it? The answer to that is also yes.

BRIAN ROSS: Why didn't the U.S. order it sooner?

MICHAEL LEAVITT: I can't answer that. I don't know the answer.

BRIAN ROSS: It once again, just two weeks after Hurricane Katrina, raises questions about the Bush administration and its ability to plan for a predictable natural disaster.

DR. IRWIN REDLENER: We can't just wing it. When we wing it, we get New Orleans.

BRIAN ROSS: Even the president's closest ally on Capitol Hill, the Republican leader of the Senate, Bill Frist, is now sounding the alarm about the country's lack of Tamiflu.

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