Outcry as companies score flu drugs, shots

Are certain companies getting VIP treatment this flu pandemic? You tell us. Accusations of preferential drug-and-vaccine sales arose almost simultaneously on opposite sides of the globe as South Korean prosecutors raided Roche's offices in Seoul and news broke in New York that two megabanks got flu-shot doses despite a vaccine shortage.

First, the Korean probe. Prosecutors searched Roche as part of an investigation into large-scale illegal purchases of the Tamiflu antiviral drug, the Financial Times reports. Now, Korea's FDA is sifting the data. At issue: Whether Roche has been selling Tamiflu to private companies that fear mass absenteeism should flu break out in a big way.

Already, regulators say they have evidence that the bank HSBC and drugmaker Novartis have obtained the drug. "HSBC and Novartis bought a lot of Tamiflu to give to their employees in case of emergency because it would be difficult to secure the medicine if swine flu starts to spread rapidly," Kim Young-kyun, a regulatory official, told the FT. Roche defended itself, saying that it has adhered to Korean rules requiring a prescription for drug sales.

Meanwhile, in New York City, health officials said they handed over swine flu vaccine to some big local companies, including Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. Lots of New York businesses had registered with the Health Department to offer the shots via employee health clinics. Citigroup got 1,200 doses, more than half the number it requested, while Goldman got 200 doses out of the 5,400 it wanted. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center also got 200 doses--of the 27,400 it wanted for healthcare workers. 

City officials defended their allocation of the vaccine, saying that the companies only got doses for "high-risk" employees, and that the first vaccine batches went to doctors, community health centers and hospitals. The city has received some 800,000 doses of the H1N1 vaccine overall.

- read the FT piece
- get more from Bloomberg
- read the NYT story
- check out the article in the Wall Street Journal