Nationwide Medical Supply Shortages – How Did We Get Here?

Nationwide Medical Supply Shortages
Nationwide Medical Supply Shortages

We are experiencing widespread medical supply shortages across the country. This trend has been building over the last decade and has accelerated even more so in the past three years. Over eighty percent of materials used to make critical and essential medical supplies, devices, and equipment are imported from China and India.

The economic slowdown in China due to the pandemic and the devaluation of the Yuan has caused Chinese manufacturers to move away from producing high-end products such as plastic and rubber hoses, syringes, needles, IV bags, urinary catheters, blood pressure cuffs, face masks, surgical gowns, exam gloves, and ventilators.

In 2022, we continue to struggle with a national tampon shortage, baby formula shortages, and more essential needs items. How can such shortages hit a developed nation such as the United States? How is our entire economy so fragile?

The baby formula shortage results from a significant formula producer in Michigan (Abbott Nutrition) being shut down due to bacteria. All formulas were voluntarily recalled, clearing all store shelves. Since Abbott controls more than 40% of the U.S. formula market, the other 60% was insufficient. The factory has reopened, but it will be months before store shelves return.

But a critical dye is no longer available due to a Chinese port shutdown. This dye is typically used in cat scans. Yes, a scan can be performed without dye, but it is less clear, and the radiologist could easily miss something.

Suppose we fully bounce back from all of these shortages, factory closures, bird flu, and more. In that case, we will need to work on building medical supply chain resilience and strengthen our ability to supply necessary items on our own. It is rare to go to the pharmacy and not be told at least one medication is unavailable, and they don’t know when it will be. Shortages of medical supplies have now been normalized, leading to the complacency of governmental officials recognizing how dire the situation was with the closure of Abbott. The crisis was identified too late at the expense of many babies.

Even pre-pandemic, the storms that decimated Puerto Rico in 2017 led to shortages of IV bags. Then on its heels, a plant closed in California that produced vital injectable medications.

Now more than ever, resilience needs to be a major priority, especially regarding lifesaving and life-sustaining medical supplies, equipment, and medication. The United States needs to deeply reconsider the reliance on importing so much of their medical supplies from countries like China and ramp up production within the US mainland.

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