We rely on medical supplies – from prescription drugs to hospital machines to personal protective equipment (PPE) – for our personal health and wellness. They are made for that purpose. But making medical supplies in the United States benefits our national health – the American economy, job growth, and ability to respond adequately to emergencies.
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed some uncomfortable truths about medical supply chains. Too many of the supplies we need are made in foreign countries. A crisis such as a natural disaster can interrupt the manufacture of these supplies there and their import here.
Further, some of these countries are not our friends. Prior to COVID-19, China exported almost half of the word’s PPE, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics. The Subcommittee on Health I serve on heard testimony before the pandemic about China’s dominance in other areas, such as penicillin or the blood thinner heparin.
The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) pattern of behavior on the global stage, including its actions throughout the pandemic, indicates that it should not be trusted. Even before the pandemic, concerns existed about the safety and quality of medical supplies provided by China. During the pandemic, the CCP required U.S. companies based in China to make PPE and then hoarded it when other countries also needed the equipment.
Both the Trump and Biden Administrations have invoked the Defense Production Act to increase domestic production of PPE and other medical equipment. Other companies, including several in Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District, have voluntarily converted manufacturing from their usual products to those most needed during the pandemic. For example, textile manufacturers have shifted to making masks and gowns, and whiskey distillers have used their facilities to produce hand sanitizer.
It has been encouraging to see Americans apply their ingenuity and dedication to meeting the needs of the present crisis. We have risen to this challenge.
In the long term, the challenge to be met is ensuring that Americans need not depend on foreign countries for our medical essentials.
I raised some points on this issue at a Subcommittee on Health hearing on February 3.
To start, I asked witnesses about the ideal percentage of our medical supplies that should be manufactured here. The United States does not have to achieve complete self-sufficiency, but it should strive to manufacture enough here so that we are not subject to the mercy of any single other country.
Just as the United States should not overly depend on one country for these supplies, we should not depend on one part of the country.
The aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017 is instructive. The storm inflicted great devastation on Puerto Rico, where a substantial amount of U.S. pharmaceutical manufacturing takes place. It knocked out a manufacturer of saline bags, causing a shortage of this essential product in U.S. hospitals for months.
Any strategy for increasing medical supply manufacturing in the United States must account for a similar scenario and build in geographical diversity so one disaster does not cut off supply. I’ll advocate for the Ninth District to be one of those sites, but we can also think about the broader United States – not just our states but territories such as Puerto Rico.
If medical supply chains return to the United States, a further issue to consider is having a dependable market. One of the issues we face now amid the pandemic is having to scale up production of supplies to fit the great need that exists. They won’t always be in such high demand, but it will be important to maintain manufacturing capacity to increase production if demand rises again in the future.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle want to tackle this important subject, and I believe we can do it. For our health, well-being, economic growth, and national security, we must do it.
For questions, concerns, or comments, call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671, or via email at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.