Personal protective equipment manufacturers are asking the federal government to beef up its planning for and management of future pandemics to avoid the shortages that have endangered healthcare workers during COVID-19.
Representatives of the International Safety Equipment Association (ISEA), which includes the major manufacturers of N95 masks, told reporters today that they plan to ask the federal government to establish a new emergency PPE distribution system in coordination with the states.
The new system would have a large infrastructure to distribute supplies, connected by a government-sponsored data system that tracks inventories and demand spikes and backed by a fully supplied PPE stockpile, according to ISEA chairperson Craig Wallentine, a retired global business and development manager for DuPont Safety & Construction. It could be modeled after the system that’s set up to distribute supplies from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, he explained.
“I think this is a model of how the nation has dealt with external shocks in the past and would have a great way to drive preparedness for pandemics in the future,” Wallentine said. “With almost 300,000 Americans dead, now is the time to really focus on this. We’re calling for Congress to pass legislation to help manage the new system with long-term funding, coordination between federal and state and a data-driven program that would minimize these unnecessary supply shocks that we see at the beginning of these pandemics.”
ISEA and others came out last Spring to criticize the haphazard funding and operation of the National Strategic Stockpile since the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. The supply of N95 masks was ever fully replenished in either the Obama or the Trump administration. Trump dismantled Obama’s pandemic response setup and threw pandemic supply management to the states, which were left to compete with one another for masks, gowns, gloves and other PPE.
With no federal-level data to indicate where urgent PPE demand exists, the safety equipment industry relies on qualitative reports, a situation that has harmed at-risk communities, according to the trade group.
ISEA officials are scheduled to meet next week with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team to ask for better quantitative forecasting and management for future emergencies, said ISEA president Charles Johnson. The group will also ask for “a more robust and regular partnership with the government and other entities who must prepare with stocks of these products for future emergencies, and for other policy solutions that forecast demand and better manage the supply, whether through stockpiling, production capacity support and other solutions that price in future surge demand into the supply chain,” Johnson said.
3M is manufacturing more N95 masks than it ever has, reported Denise Rutherford, senior VP of corporate affairs for the company. So has family-owned Moldex, which established a new factory outside Nashville, Tenn., to manufacture N95s. Moldex also added N95 production at its Culver City, Calif. headquarters, said company sales VP Bill Schubach, but he could not provide production figures.
“By the end of 2020, we will have produced more than 2 billion respirators globally,” Rutherford said of 3M, the world’s leading N95 producer. “That has tripled production over 2019.”
Still, association members expect PPE shortages to continue as the pandemic rages on ahead of widespread adoption of a vaccine.
“It’s important to note that even if the stockpile had been fully stocked as originally envisioned, those amounts would have been insufficient to address the full demand for the COVID crisis,” Johnson said.
ISEA has asked the federal government to do more comprehensive forecasting of PPE demand and to add a broader category of safety equipment to the national stockpile, including reusable respirators.
“Once we know the shape of that demand, this industry stands ready to provide to supply the products that are needed, to meet that demand,” Johnson said.