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Photo: Roland Weihrauch/picture alliance via Getty Images

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday temporarily relaxed certain policy guidelines that could allow manufacturers to produce more ventilators.

Why it matters: Automakers, parts suppliers and other industrial companies have offered to lend their manufacturing expertise in a wartime-like mobilization to combat the global pandemic. But without some easing of the FDA's strict validation process for medical devices, it can't happen.

What's new: The FDA issued new temporary guidelines that would give ventilator manufacturers more flexibility in the design of the machines, the materials used and manufacturing processes to clear existing bottlenecks.

  • They could, potentially, purchase a different type of motor from an alternate supplier, or use different types of plastic in the ventilator tubes, for example.
  • "We believe this approach will help manufacturers that want to add production lines or manufacture at alternative sites which may have different manufacturing equipment to increase manufacturing capacity," the FDA said.

President Trump caused confusion Sunday when he tweeted: "Ford, General Motors and Tesla are being given the go ahead to make ventilators and other metal products, FAST!"

Reality check: Carmakers are starting from a standstill, trying to learn about ventilators, who makes them, what their capacity issues are, and how the auto industry can help.

  • There is no federal orchestration of the process, so companies are leveraging their own networks for information.
  • Nor is it clear if automakers, whose own businesses are reeling from virus-related shutdowns, will be paid, and by whom.

The most likely scenario: Companies like GM and Ford could use their global scale to lean on suppliers, including raw materials suppliers, to speed delivery of components to ventilator manufacturers.

  • They could also share high-volume production techniques to maximize output.
  • Car factories switching to ventilator manufacturing is a long shot, but it could happen down the road.

The big question: Can any of this happen quickly enough to make a difference?

  • Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said New York is days away from running out of ventilators and other medical supplies.
  • Honeywell, which already makes N95 masks, said Sunday it could take 30 days to start up a new production facility in Rhode Island.

The bottom line: There's a desperate need for medical equipment, and it's not clear how manufacturers will be able to meet the need.

Go deeper

Kate Marino, author of Markets
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Omicron outbreaks were bad for business in January

Data: New York Federal Reserve Bank; Chart: Axios Visuals

Emerging anecdotal evidence shows just how hard the recent rise in COVID-19 cases hit businesses in early January — but that hasn't hurt some business leaders’ longer-term views on their companies' prospects.

Why it matters: Increasingly, the economic recovery has come in fits and starts that move in tandem with new peaks in cases. Look no further than the thousands of cancelled flights and shuttered Broadway theaters in the wake of the Omicron variant's spread over the last few months.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
2 hours ago - Health

The shifting definition of fully vaccinated

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The definition of what it means to be "fully vaccinated" is evolving even as the CDC has remained careful not to officially change it.

Why it matters: CDC officials have been balancing the job of convincing Americans who've already gotten two doses of the importance of boosters with getting many Americans who still need their first doses to get their shots at all.

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Small businesses see hiring as No. 1 worry

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Almost every small business owner in a Goldman Sachs survey is having trouble hiring — and two-thirds think the federal government has done too little to ease their hiring, supply-chain and inflation worries.

Why it matters: The Goldman Sachs research gives a vivid window into the continuing headwinds and hardship for entrepreneurs.