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Japan's Tamiflu stock below government goals

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  • Japan's Tamiflu stock below government goals

    Japan's Tamiflu stock below government goals for worst-case flu pandemic

    The Associated Press

    Japan's stockpile of anti-viral drug Tamiflu falls short of the government's target to handle a possible pandemic of bird flu or other virus, health officials said Thursday, as flu season approached.

    According to Japanese government estimates, a flu pandemic in Japan could infect one in four people, and up to 25 million people may seek treatment at hospitals. In a worst case scenario, up to 640,000 people could be killed from such a pandemic, the government says.

    Preparing for the worst, Tokyo planned to have Tamiflu stocks for 25 million people under a program set up in December 2005. The program, however, set no timetable for reaching that target, government health officials say.

    Under the plan, the central government was to stock enough Tamiflu for 10.5 million people, and local governments would have stocks for another 10.5 million people. Stocks available in the market would cover an additional 4 million people.

    Stocks, however, are still short of those targets.

    The central government has stocks for 7.5 million, and local governments plan to buy enough stocks for 5.25 million by March 2007, according to health ministry official Mitsuru Tashiro. That would cover only about 60 percent of the amount called for under the plan.

    Tashiro said he didn't know whether stocks available on the market had reached the target.

    The H5N1 strain of bird flu has killed 154 people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

    So far, the virus still cannot move easily from human to human ? but if this changes, experts fear it could lead to a deadly flu pandemic.

    Tamiflu is widely used in Japan. Nearly 80 percent of worldwide prescriptions between 1999 and 2005 for the drug were for Japan, according to an official of Chugai Pharmaceutical Co., citing figures by Roche Holding AG, which makes Tamiflu. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.

    Tokyo-based Chugai is a member company of the Roche group.