A group of labor unions and environmental groups is petitioning the Trump Administration to mandate production of personal protective equipment (PPE) using the Defense Production Act (DPA).
The petition, submitted Aug. 11 to the U.S. departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, dovetails with the FDA’s issuance on Monday of its first list of PPE shortages, which includes surgical gowns, gloves, testing supplies and ventilation-related products for the sickest patients. PPE shortages have plagued the U.S. since the COVID-19 pandemic spread to this country.
Separately, the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Monday announced an agreement under the DPA for companies to voluntarily work with the government on planning, manufacture and distribution of “critical healthcare resources necessary to respond to a pandemic.” A section of the act allows the president to authorize such voluntary agreements by the private sector to help provide for the national defense. The DPA was signed into law in 1950 to allow the federal government to compel private companies to manufacture goods in support of the military during wartime.
The labor and environmental groups are demanding PPE not only for healthcare workers, but for frontline workers in transit, postal, airline, domestic and other industries.
The petition asks for an emergency nationwide inventory of PPE, a final rule designating critical protective materials, coordination with private industry on production and distribution, and a loan program that would spur domestic production of PPE and the materials to make it.
Medtech trade group AdvaMed said in March that it opposed using the Defense Production Act for PPE because it could hinder U.S. medtech imports. The Trump administration has invoked the act multiple times to require companies to manufacture ventilators, thousands of which now reportedly sit in national stockpiles as doctors have changed their COVID-19 treatment protocols to use fewer ventilators.
“Recent studies show that healthcare workers alone make up 10-20% of all COVID-19 infections, and confirmed COVID cases among every 100,000 healthcare workers was more than 10-fold that of the general population,” the petition says. “Even these numbers are likely gross under-estimates because of the paucity of data from employer corporations and government tracking, the failure to provide testing, and the inordinately high rate of inaccurate test results. What is more, essential workers are disproportionately Black, Latinx and from other communities of color, reflecting the issues of systemic racism underlying frontline worker fatalities. This is unacceptable. The lives of frontline workers are not expendable.”
This article has been updated with information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.