Applying U.S. safety standards to drug imports is more important than allowing them into the country without the regulations just because they are cheaper, some delegates of the American Medical Association said Sunday.
Many members of the House of Delegates of the nation's largest physician organization also said that delivering flu vaccines to high-risk patients should become a higher priority.
The delegates were debating the proposed resolutions at their annual winter meeting in Atlanta. The measures were expected to be submitted to the full House for votes today and Tuesday.
While there is strong support for change in the distribution of the flu vaccine, delegates may split on the issue of importing potentially cheaper drugs from Canada and other nations. The AMA said more than 6,000 members it surveyed last month were evenly divided on drug importation.
The AMA's board of trustees currently recommends that prescription drugs be imported only if they are approved and monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It opposes importing drugs through the Internet, based only on a customer answering a few questions instead of providing a prescription.
"I personally have no problem at all to import drugs if they're safe, if all regulations in this country are applied, and if it comes from a certified pharmacy," said Bernd Wollschlaeger, M.D., of the University of Miami School of Medicine.
One resolution debated Sunday calls for the AMA to support the safe importation of prescription drugs. Another would ask the FDA to develop drug-import guidelines in cooperation with Canadian authorities.
Wollschlaeger's Florida delegation introduced a resolution calling for the federal government to require that flu vaccines first go to health care providers to ensure that patients who are most at risk receive vaccines. Currently, Americans typically get the vaccine through supermarkets or drugstores.
The U.S. has suffered a flu vaccine shortage since British health officials shut down a Liverpool plant operated by shot-maker Chiron Corp. in October, canceling a shipment of 48 million doses. Chiron is one of the nation's two suppliers. Delegates testified about people waiting for the vaccine in long lines in parking lots while patients unable to endure the waits were in greater need of the vaccine.
"If the vaccine had been delivered first to the proper health care places, that would guarantee that the high-risk patients were given top priority," Wollschlaeger said.
The resolution appeared to have strong support.
Most delegates appeared to oppose an alternative resolution by the American Association of Public Health Physicians calling for the government to take over the production and distribution of the vaccines.
"We have to change our battle plan," argued Arvind Goyal, M.D., president of the public health physicians group. "That's what the Army does when it is not winning."