Apr 3, 2020 - Economy

Ventilators: Not too little, but too late for many

gloved hands making a ventilators

On their first day, auto workers at GM learn how ventilators go together. Photo: GM

Sadly, it's clear the wartime mobilization effort to produce ventilators and medical supplies got started too late to help patients and medical personnel before the coronavirus peaks in some cities like New York. But those supplies will be available for the next wave of the pandemic.

Driving the news: American manufacturers are saying it will be months before they meet demand for high-quality masks, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Most of the 100,000 ventilators President Trump promised the U.S. would obtain won't be available until June, Federal Emergency Management Agency officials told the House Oversight Committee this week, Politico reports.

  • On Thursday, the president invoked the emergency Defense Production Act to push 3M and six major medical device companies to produce more protective masks and ventilators.
  • Earlier, he used the act to push General Motors and a ventilator partner, Ventec Life Systems, to produce the life-saving machines.
  • The new order is intended to help the companies overcome supply chain obstacles "that threaten the rapid supply of ventilators."

By the numbers: 3M and a half dozen smaller competitors are making about 50 million protective N95 masks per month, well below the 300 million per month the Department of Health and Human Services says are needed to fight a pandemic.

In an exclusive interview with Axios, Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, the senior Navy officer now in charge of fixing America's broken medical supply chain, acknowledged that lining up new manufacturers will take weeks or longer.

  • "You can't just make masks in volume in a matter of days," he said.
  • But, by the time we get to "the other side," he added, "we're going to end up with more capacity domestically."

The bottom line: American industries are scaling as fast as they can, but global demand far outweighs the supply of needed equipment.

Go deeper: Louisiana on track to exceed ventilator capacity this week

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