The US government spent $1.3bn stockpiling antiviral drugs to protect key workers against the H1N1 (swine flu) virus, while the UK spent lb424m-but there is no evidence the drugs work, an independent review has concluded.
Roche and GlaxoSmithKline, manufacturers of the drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza, refused to release their data to the independent researchers at the Cochrane Collaboration, who relied on the results from 46 trials into the drugs.
Their conclusion was damning: at best, the drugs reduce the length of the flu by half a day, and not at all in children. And for this marginal gain, the drugs can cause nausea and vomiting, headaches, psychiatric issues and renal (kidney) problems.
The drugs also don't prevent the spreading of the virus, even though that was one of the key requirements of the governments when they placed their massive orders in 2009.
Soon after the government placed their multi-million pound orders, the Cochrane reviewers asked Roche to release data about the effectiveness and safety of Tamiflu (oseltamivir), but were turned down.
The Cochrane review ends with a question for government health agencies; knowing what you know now, would you place similar orders for the anti-virals today?
(Source: BMJ, 2014; 348: g2547)