In this file photo dated March 3, 2020, Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services Preparedness and Response, Dr. Robert Kadlec, before a Senate Committee on Education, Labor, and Pensions on coronavirus hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Kadlec said in an email on Friday, October 9, that the Trump administration is “accelerating the production of safe and effective vaccines … to ensure delivery by January 2021.” (AP Photo / Andrew Harnik)
A Trump administration official who led the coronavirus pandemic response said the US could expect to receive a vaccine from January 2021, despite the president saying vaccinations could begin this month.
And a growing, non-partisan chorus of lawmakers, experts and public health officials say the country is ill-prepared for a planned winter flood of COVID-19.
Dr. Robert Kadlec said in an email on Friday that the government is “accelerating the production of safe and effective vaccines … to ensure delivery by January 2021.” Kadlec is the Department of Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary for Preparedness and Response.
President Donald Trump has said at rallies, debates and press conferences that a vaccine could arrive within weeks. “We believe we can start sometime in October,” Trump said earlier this week that a disruption in the supply chain for critical medical equipment such as masks, gloves, robes and ventilators hampered the US response to COVID-19 and was likely a factor in the country’s death rate per capita higher than almost any other country in the world.
Experts say that shortage could now extend to the syringes, needles and glass vials that are vital to a future nationwide vaccination program.
Kadlec agrees that disruptions in the supply chain have created bottlenecks. He said the administration needs more consistent and flexible funding from Congress to support the strategic national supply of medical supplies and medicines and expand domestic production.
“On both sides of Congress, in healthcare and on the manufacturing base, there seems to be a general consensus that moving from a just-in-time manufacturing model to a more flexible and resilient domestic manufacturing capability is critical,” he said.
Health experts have called for the same changes but say there is a vacuum of federal leadership to implement them now.
“A single nationally coordinated strategy would help states, hospitals, doctor’s offices and other institutions have a single central authority responsible for purchasing essential personal protective equipment,” said Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association, told AP and FRONTLINE on Thursday. “The incineration rate from personal protective equipment and medical supplies has been far higher than anything we’ve seen, and the need for PPE and testing will remain for the foreseeable future.”
The collapse in the medical supply chain was not unexpected: for decades, politicians and corporate officials ignored warnings about the risks associated with the US’s over-reliance on foreign manufacturing and the lack of adequate preparation at home.
Of the hundreds of COVID-19-related bills introduced in Congress this year, only a handful are trying to solve problems in the supply chain. None of them reached the president.
“We need to reclaim our medical supply chain back to the US,” said Senator Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Who has sponsored Bills to bolster the US pharmaceutical manufacturing base.
Around nine months after the pandemic began, health care workers and even the Government Accountability Office are reporting that there is still insufficient protective equipment for frontline workers or adequate coordination by the federal government. And although contingency plans and contingency plans are in place, the implementation has been inconsistent.
“We went into this pandemic unprepared, and we will continue to do so months later,” said Boris Lushniak, former acting surgeon general in the Obama administration. “It’s time to reassess the entire US medical supply chain. The federal government needs to take the lead here.”
Public health leaders across the country are warning of the coming months.
“A coherent national plan for the equitable distribution of PPE has still not been proposed, let alone implemented,” said Professor Dr. Andrew T. Chan of Harvard Medical School, who found that Black, Spanish and Asian healthcare workers were at the highest risk of developing COVID. 19. “So we will continue to fly past the seat of our trousers with crossed fingers for the foreseeable future.”
Michael Lu, dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, said an important part of the solution lies in a bipartisan bill passed in the Senate that will rebuild strategic national inventory and manufacture of medical masks, gowns, and more in the US would strengthen protective equipment.
“We weren’t ready for the pandemic,” said Lu. “And we’re still not ready.”
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