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Roche Gives Workers Flu Drug in Case of Pandemic
 
 
  Reuters Health - Mar. 09, 2007
By Lewis Krauskopf
 
NUTLEY, N.J. (Reuters) - All 5,300 U.S. employees of Swiss drug-maker Roche Holding AG have been issued supplies of its flu drug Tamiflu to weather a possible influenza pandemic, the company said on Thursday.
 
Roche's U.S. employees had on-site doctor appointments and a mandatory online influenza tutorial before being given the prescription antiviral drug.
 
"We don't know who may get sick, who may not get sick, so we thought it was important to protect all our employees," said Mike McGuire, Roche's vice president for anti-infectives.
 
Whether to provide antivirals to employees was one issue companies wrestled with on Thursday at a six-hour seminar on corporate preparedness for a potential influenza pandemic.
 
The meeting, held at Roche operations in Nutley, New Jersey, comes as experts almost universally agree that the world is ripe for a pandemic of some infectious disease. The H5N1 avian influenza virus, which has infected 277 people since 2003 and killed 168 of them, is considered the leading candidate to cause one.
 
The U.S. government has urged employers to develop plans to cope with a possible pandemic.
 
"If you plan on planning to deal with a pandemic, you have to do it now," George Abercrombie, the head of Roche's U.S. operations, told the audience, made up largely of Roche's vendors, business partners and other health-care companies.
 
As the maker of Tamiflu, which is seen as a critical defense in any flu pandemic, Roche is in an unusual position among corporations preparing for such a health crisis.
 
Company officials said they have had access to other corporations' pandemic plans and have been involved in high-level government discussions.
 
MAKING LISTS
 
Should a pandemic strike, Roche said it expects to need about 15 percent of its work force on site and another 15 percent to work remotely.
 
Roche officials have been making a list of essential personnel. They want to be able to make and distribute drugs, but also to expose as few employees as possible to situations where a highly contagious virus could spread.
 
"We're not going to want a lot of people on site during a pandemic wave," Alex Nawotka, director of Roche's commercial operations group, told participants.
 
The issues that companies need to address, speakers said on Thursday, run from installing proper hygienic procedures, to deciding which masks to buy, to determining policies for when employees will be paid if they stay home.
 
Biju Samkutty of McKesson Corp., a pharmaceutical wholesaler, said it was expanding its communications network to allow more people to work from home.
 
Ronald Mack, medical director at New Jersey-based Public Service Enterprise Group Inc., said the energy company was also providing Tamiflu to its employees and their families. Such actions also may serve to alert workers to the gravity of the pandemic threat, he said.
 
 
 
 
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