The battle of COVID in the ‘quiet war’ on China
China is seemingly at war with us — even if it is a quiet war. The conflict stems in part from the Chinese government reportedly hoarding or restricting exports of ventilator parts and personal protective equipment to the U.S. and other countries as the pandemic spread across the globe. That is especially troublesome since, at the time, the U.S. and many nations were faced with medical shortages, health care workers were in danger, and COVID-19 patients were gasping for air. We managed to win that battle and produced our own ventilators and masks, but only after too many lives were lost.
The National Institute of Health’s Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), have both told me they have great relationships with Chinese scientists and received valuable information about COVID-19, but what is far more important is the critical information that was withheld from us — the ease of spread, the multi-system organ failure and blood clots recorded among patients. Instead of informing us directly or via its tool, the World Health Organization, the Chinese government was busy locking down Wuhan while allowing international flights which spread the virus.
To win this war, we must first recognize it, as we did with the Soviet Union after World War II. Our next great battle is to reposition our supply chain and not respond to threats, even amid a pandemic.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, 13.4 percent of our drug and biologic imports are from China, along with 39.3 percent of our medical devices. The vast majority of our antibiotics, over-the-counter pain killers and generic drugs to treat HIV, diabetes Alzheimers disease and seizures, all originate in China.
We must win this battle of the quiet war to cut this health care supply line and bring drug and medical device production back home. Generic production in India, a trusted ally (and a natural bulwark against China), which already supplies more than a third of our over-the-counter and generic prescription drugs, should be expanded as a backup plan. We must not allow China to further exploit our health care supply vulnerability, especially at a time when we are reeling from the economic devastations of the pandemic, which it brought us.
2019 was a great year for us before the virus hit. American companies, including Apple, were making plans to move production back to the U.S. The car industry announced more than $30 billion in U.S.-based investment. Imports of manufactured goods from Asia were falling, and China felt threatened. We must continue on this road if we are to save our great society. We must rebuild our drug production. Americans will feel more confident knowing a medicine was made here (or even in India) rather than in unreliable China.
We must also win the battle of the vaccine. Not just because China’s vaccine industry is infamous for producing defective vaccines, but so that they don’t hold us, hostage, to it if they beat us to the punch.
So far, so good on that front: Promising vaccines from Moderna, Oxford University (backed by Astra Zeneca) and BioNTech (a German company backed by Pfizer) are proceeding rapidly through clinical trials.
President Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” is a bold attempt to win the race to the vaccine against China, much as the Manhattan Project beat Germany to the atomic bomb during World War II. This is a much quieter war, but we must win it, too, in order to protect our health care system and save the world once again — this time from a lethal virus and the country that wants to use it to exploit us further to win the quiet war.
Marc Siegel, M.D., is a professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health. He is a Fox News medical correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @drmarcsiegel.
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