Key Medical Supplies Were Shipped from U.S. Manufacturers to Foreign Buyers, Records Show

April 1, 2020 Media

WHILE MUCH OF the world moved swiftly to lock down crucial medical supplies used to treat the coronavirus, the U.S. dithered, maintaining business as normal and allowing large shipments of American-made respirators and ventilators to be sold to foreign buyers.

The foreign shipments, detailed in dozens of government records, show exports to other hot spots where the pandemic has spread, including East Asia and Europe.

American hospitals around the country are now running low on all forms of personal protective gear, such as N95 masks or purified air personal respirators, for medical staff, as well as life-saving ventilators, which pump oxygenated air into the lungs, for patients. Experts say the U.S. could face a drastic shortage of intensive care units equipped with ventilators and breathing aids to meet the expected wave of seriously ill patients. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has pleaded for more ventilators and said that the city may run short as soon as April 5.

“The lack of domestic personal protective equipment also relates to our government’s unwillingness to read the cards and begin seriously stockpiling in January and February,” said Olivia Webb, policy analyst with the American Economic Liberties Project.

Blanket bans on exports could disrupt production of health care products by breaking supply chains in the midst of a crisis, and could limit the ability of the U.S. to assist poorer countries facing the pandemic.

“An ideal policy,” Webb said, “would demand corporations give the U.S. government and U.S. health care entities the right of first refusal for PPE and related equipment during a national emergency.”