Equipment manufacturers call on Pence to help boost production of critical coronavirus supplies

Equipment manufacturers call on Pence to help boost production of critical coronavirus supplies
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The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) encouraged Vice President Pence on Wednesday to expedite the approval and certification of new products so their member companies can retool manufacturing operations to develop masks during the coronavirus pandemic.

AEM held its board of directors meeting over the phone and Pence, who is overseeing the White House's coronavirus response team, joined the call for 30 minutes to discuss their priorities.

“The biggest challenge is the expedited certification process for new designs or supply chains,” Kip Eideberg, AEM senior vice president of government and industry relations, told The Hill after the call. “It does us no good if we have member companies who are ready to go and start supplying these much needed items if they can’t get the government to certify them.” 

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Eideberg said Pence was extremely receptive, supportive and appreciative of the industry’s efforts to make N95 or equivalent respiratory masks and his response was a “big positive” in the call.

“Every day that we can’t bring these new products to the market and to the first responders and to the health care providers, is a day too long,” Eideberg said.

AEM has been talking to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other relevant agencies, about the lengthy certification process. Eideberg said that some members have been trying to get approval for a couple of weeks and products still aren’t certified. 

He added that about a dozen of AEM’s member companies are “actively” looking into retooling their manufacturing operations for mask production. 

Eideberg also stressed that retooling machines to make masks is not a simple change. 

“It’s not as if our member companies make anything that even resemble these items normally,” he said. “There’s been all these discussions out there about how manufacturers need to retool. For our industry, it’s not the easy.” 

AEM is also pushing for national guidelines so manufacturers of products to combat the coronavirus pandemic can stay open. Over 100 business groups sent the White House a letter on Thursday calling for consistent definition of "critical infrastructure" for coronavirus response 

“What we are seeing is a bit of a patchwork right now of guidelines and directives and at the conflicting, if not contradictory, information from states,” Eideberg said.