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COVID-19 Pandemic Results in Unprecedented Demand (and Shortages) for Medical Device Manufacturers

On March 2, 2020, more than a week before COVID-19 was classified as a pandemic, the FDA and CDC took steps to address the observed and anticipated shortages that were already anticipated for respirators, by expanding the use of devices that don’t currently meet FDA regulatory requirements. The FDA noted in its release that the supply chain for respirators and other medical devices will continue to be substantially stressed as demand exceeds available supplies.

At the end of February, World Health Organization (WHO) Director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that the WHO estimates that 89 million medical masks, 76 million examination gloves, and 1.6 million goggles will be required for an adequate response to the outbreak.

"Shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other front-line health care workers dangerously ill-equipped," said Ghebreyesus in a recent CNN article. "The WHO has shipped nearly half a million sets of personal protective equipment to 27 countries, but supplies are rapidly depleting."

The organization fears that the rapidly declining supplies of critical medical devices will leave healthcare personnel vulnerable and continue to ignite the spread of the disease. The WHO is working with governments and manufacturers to try to boost production, but predictions indicate that the global supply will need to increase by at least 40% in order to meet demand.

Paulson Manufacturing, a US-based manufacturer in Temecula, California, makes infectious disease control face shields and goggles that medical personnel can use to reduce the spread of disease. Due to very high demand, Paulson has ramped up production and is producing 1 million products per month to help supply China and other countries with the protection their healthcare workers need, according to the company’s website.

“We had to move heaven and earth to get that done,” said President and CEO Roy Paulson in a local news article. “We have a lot of orders and have given quotes to many other companies.” Within days of receiving a large order from China, Paulson said, “We’re moving up toward full production power, like when you step on the throttle and you’re mashing it to the floor, and guess what we run into next? We can’t get the stuff over there because they didn’t want it by sea, they want it by air, and all these airlines have shut down on flying to China, so now there is a huge problem. How do we send it?”

A survey of manufacturers across the country found a shrinking majority of companies’ leaders believe the sector is moving positively, and executives are worried about their ability to purchase raw goods from China and other quarantined regions. “Global supply chains are impacting most, if not all, of the manufacturing industry sectors,” said Timothy Fiore, chair of the Institute for Supply Management survey committee, in a statement.

What supply chain issues do you anticipate in your area of the world as a result of COVID-19? Does your company have strategies for monitoring and mitigating supply shortages? Comment below and let’s talk about it! ISA will run a series of COVID-19 related blog posts and articles covering the manufacturing and automation angles of this rapidly developing global challenge.


Update as of March 18, 2020: Some hospitals are already reporting shortages of protective medical gear, and are resorting to making their own out of common materials like office supplies. An article in Bloomberg News reports that one system of hospitals in Washington state, one epicenter of the virus in the United States, is creating protective masks out of marine-grade vinyl, industrial tape, foam, and elastic.

“These aren’t normal times,” Vivian Reyes, an emergency room doctor in San Francisco and president of the California chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, told Bloomberg. “Our supply chain has been stunted. We’re not getting new supplies and our stores are almost depleted.”

Jennifer Halsey
Jennifer Halsey
Jennifer Halsey was the director of marketing and communications for ISA.

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