New research showing antiviral drug Tamiflu shortens the
symptoms of flu by just 12 hours is raising questions about the
billions of dollars spent by countries to stockpile it.
The Ministry of Health yesterday said it would maintain its
$32 million stockpile of Tamiflu despite the new evidence, as
it was ''international best practice'' to do so.
The British Medical Journal and the Cochrane
Collaboration yesterday issued a call to governments to
reconsider policies on stockpiling Tamiflu in light of the
While it shortened symptoms of influenza by half a day, there
was no evidence to support claims it reduced hospital
admissions, complications, or the spread of flu, the Cochrane
Collaboration said in a press release.
The study also highlighted side effects, such as nausea and
vomiting. The findings also applied to the antiviral drug
University of Auckland, New Zealand, Cochrane Fellow Dr
Vanessa Jordan said the latest research was like ''another
chapter in a story which reads like a sensationalist script
for a Hollywood movie''. The review used clinical trial data
that had not been public before.
''The available data in 2009 suggested that antivirals, such
as Tamiflu and Relenza, had potential benefits in reducing
complications from influenza and as a result the length of
hospital stays and ICU admissions.
''However, this information was incomplete and full trial
evidence on the drugs' effectiveness was suppressed by the
''Through perseverance, the Cochrane authoring group have
succeeded in obtaining information on 45 unpublished
trials,'' Dr Jordan said.
Medsafe general manager Dr Stewart Jessamine said the study
was insufficient for New Zealand to alter its position.
''In line with World Health Organisation advice, and with
some 100 other countries around the world, New Zealand
maintains just over 1 million doses of Tamiflu and more than
300,000 doses of Relenza. These stocks are periodically
The cost of the Tamiflu alone was about $32 million. The cost
of the Relenza was unclear, but the entire stockpile,
including medical supplies such as syringes, was worth about
''As with all drugs and the assessment of their costs and
benefits, it's important that regulators consider the widest
possible range of research and information. This study should
be placed in that context.
''Another recent study, in The Lancet, looked at the
use of Tamiflu in patients suffering from influenza - as
opposed to clinical controlled trials in the Cochrane study.
This showed there were clear benefits from its use.
''New Zealand will continue to monitor literature on this
subject and the considerations of other regulators,'' he