Health Care and Consumer Industry Groups Concerned about Supply Shortages During Coronavirus Pandemic

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Health care, consumer industry groups, and federal agencies fear that the US might face major problems in keeping basic medical, food and retail supplies available during the period of coronavirus pandemic.

On Sunday, the group that represents food and retail companies such as Clorox, Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo told the State Department and the US Trade Representative fear that other countries may cut off their exports to the US, which could aggravate the public health emergency.

On Sunday, President Donald Trump spoke to grocery, food, and beverage corporate leaders about supply chain concerns, including the Consumer Brand Association’s head and major grocery chain CEOs.

“Supply chains in the United States are strong, and it is unnecessary for the American public to hoard daily essentials,” according to a readout of the President’s conference call provided by White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere.

“All of the executives are working hand-in-hand with the Federal Government, as well as State and local leaders, to ensure food and essentials are constantly available,” Deere said.

But Consumer Brands is mostly concerned about countries limiting chemicals, ingredients, and products from getting to the US. For example, India, who is a major drug ingredient supplier, has already restricted its exports of medications like acetaminophen, a common painkiller used for flu-like symptoms, while Germany has prohibited the export of safety equipment like masks, gloves, and suits used by health care professionals.

“Absent early intervention, Consumer Brands fears that efforts by other countries to restrict the export of base materials, nutritional and food inputs, chemicals, and other essential manufacturing supplies and ingredients will prevent manufacturers from being able to increase production, ultimately leading to consumers being unable to obtain products that are vital to treating and stopping the spread of COVID-19 and remaining healthy,” the products lobbying group wrote to the State Department and federal trade office on Sunday.

“In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, we have already seen multiple countries enact restrictions on the export of base materials, chemicals, medical supplies, and ingredients. If other countries were to follow suit,” the group wrote, it would “pose a serious threat to public health.”

They’ve also said that India, Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Turkey, and Russia have already narrowed the export of some chemicals and medical products they produce.

“It would only require a handful of countries taking a similar approach to quickly result in long-term, critical ingredient shortages,” the industry group wrote.

The group of companies is demanding the government to work with the foreign leaders on trade and to try to lift tariffs.

With more and more cases of the virus appearing every day around the world, governments do everything they can in order to help their own people, however, it’s not yet clear how drastically the supply chain will be affected.

“I don’t think we quite know yet how these market disruptions are going to affect the availability of products in the US at all,” said Amanda Klingler, a Washington- and Chicago-based lawyer who advises pharmaceutical manufacturers on supply chain issues. “I think this is something we’re going to see come down the line.”

The former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy claimed on Sunday some doctors and nurses are already short on safety equipment such as gowns and gloves.

Industry groups have issued a warning with the Trump administration about possible shortages in supplies for several days, even weeks.

The supply chain problem has been on the administration’s radar since at least early March, when the President announced a meeting with some pharmaceutical and biotech companies, then pushed them on making vaccines quickly. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on March 2 the administration was helping companies on speeding up vaccines, therapeutics and foreseeing supply chain challenges.

In addition, some industry groups have been giving advice and recommendation to the federal agencies, highlighting the coming shortages and the need for leadership.

The Consumer Brands Association has already met with the staff from Vice President Mike Pence’s office in the first week of March to talk about the supply chain problems. The group has publicly pushed for special task forces from Customs & Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security and for the creation of a White House Office of Supply Chain about receiving supplies into the US and getting them distributed.

Pence has been approached by many people that work in the administration who have alerted them about disrupted supply chains and encouraged him to pull back from drug production in China before it’s too late.

The US’s major lab industry group has also expressed their concerns with federal agencies over the past week about the possibility of shortages of supplies, including face masks and hand sanitizer.

Julie Khani, the president of the American Clinical Laboratory Association, which represents Quest Diagnostics, LabCorp and several other labs, claimed that her industry group has been in contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since mid-January.

“Since commercial tests first went live less than a week ago, we’ve been working closely with the CDC and other federal agencies to help anticipate any potential shortages laboratories may face down the line,” she said in a statement. “As a part of this ongoing communication with federal agencies, we’ve raised concerns about potential shortages of certain supplies, including specimen collection swabs, N95 respirators, viral transport media, masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer.”

The Food and Drug Administration claims they have been supervising the supply chain problems and sees potential shortages coming for medical products in the US, according to the agency’s recent public statements.

Federal regulators have also freed up some products, like respirators not normally used in health care, to be used during the outbreak by medical professionals. The FDA also warned last week of coming surgical mask and gown shortages and told healthcare workers how to limit the use of gown and mask, in case they are running low.

“We’ve been working diligently to mitigate any potential shortages in the supply chain, including addressing increased demand and supply challenges associated with personal protective equipment,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement earlier this month.

Last week, the consumer products lobbying group raised concerns with the Department of Justice on price-gouging around hand sanitizer and other products in short supply, and the Department pledged to hold accountable bad actors.

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