Should you stockpile Tamiflu?

Tamiflu is effective against at least some strains of avian flu.  But if a pandemic comes, can you expect to get your tamiflu?  Why not buy some now and put it in the refrigerator?

Deborah Franklin (NYT, $) says you should not stockpile.  She claims you will have to pay too much, you might store the drug incorrectly, and you may exacerbate drug resistance. 

We can dismiss the first argument out of hand, as those costs ($65-$100 for a five day course) are internalized by the purchaser.

As for the second argument, will a centralized stockpile involve less wastage?  Just pick the correct temperature for storing the pills.  I’ll predict that bureaucracy and distribution and rent-seeking costs will be high if there is panic demand for Tamiflu.  If you’re smart enough to read MR, you’re smart enough to have lower storage and distribution costs than our government.  Which other assets — other than military hardware — do you prefer they hold for you? 

Resistance is a real issue, especially if you stop taking the drug too soon.  But I suspect fanatical early stockpilers are the people least likely to make this mistake.

A further question is whether you are most deserving to have some Tamiflu, in case a pandemic comes.  Maybe it should all go to the vulnerable elderly.  (What if the hoarders are the vulnerable elderly?)  On the other hand, early stockpilers tend to be relatively rich in human capital.  And your stockpiling behavior, in the meantime, bids up the price, runs down stocks, and encourages more production. 

Howard Markel, a medical historian at U. Michigan, offered a revealing comment for the NYT article:

"Historically, whenever there’s a crisis you’ll find stockpiling, hoarding, black marketeering and generally bad [sic] behavior"

No, I am not buying.  But as you can see, I am thinking about it. 


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