HHS Seeks Comments on Influenza Guidances

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) seeks public comment on its three recently released draft guidances designed to protect the public from a possible influenza pandemic, including guidelines for employers who plan to stockpile antiviral drugs.

The guidances address antiviral drug use during an influenza pandemic; the use and purchase of facemasks and respirators; and antiviral drug stockpiling by employers in preparation of a pandemic.

According to the Proposed Considerations for Antiviral Drug Stockpiling by Employers In Preparation for an Influenza Pandemic guidance, employers may wish to purchase and stockpile such drugs to provide prophylaxis for front-line health care and emergency services workers, workers who are critical to essential operations or community services or overseas employees who may not have access to the U.S. government pandemic response.

“The federal government strongly encourages employers of all sizes to plan for a pandemic, to protect the health of employees and assure continuity of operations,” the guidance reads. “Influenza antiviral drugs (antivirals) are one of several approaches to protecting people during a pandemic and can serve as an important part of a layered approach to pandemic mitigation.”

According to HHS, the three guidances are part of a comprehensive strategy to prepare for and respond to a possible pandemic. The notice of the availability of the draft guidances and call for comment was published in the June 3 Federal Register.

TFAH Demands Equitable Protections for Small-Business Employees

In a statement following the release of HHS’s guidances, Trust for America's Health (TFAH) emphasized that the federal government must do all it can to protect all Americans from a potential pandemic flu outbreak, especially those who are employed by smaller businesses that may not have the ability or resources to fully prepare.

“Asking employers and families to take tangible steps to prepare in advance for a pandemic influenza outbreak is a step in the right direction. However, the federal government must assure that all Americans have access to the protections HHS recommends,” said Jeff Levi, director of the Trust for America's Health. “An employee of a small to mid-size company should not be penalized because the enterprise can not afford the costs of acquiring, storing and dispensing antiviral medications during a flu pandemic.”

He added that it is not reasonable for every household to stockpile the recommended 20 respirator masks or the up to 100 facemasks per family at a cost of $35 to $70. Even for families that can afford the masks, children may still be unprotected because the Federal Drug Administration still has not approved respirator masks for kids, who can be more susceptible to infection than adults.

“In the event of a pandemic outbreak, leaving the massive costs and logistical responsibilities to businesses and individuals, without the assurance of equal access to key prevention strategies, like antivirals and respirator masks, is not an option,” Levi stated. “The government must assure all Americans are protected, regardless of where they live or work.”

Information about the guidances and instructions on how to comment can be found at http://aspe.hhs.gov/panflu/antiviral-n-masks.shtml. Comments must be submitted by July 3.

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