Health Care

Democratic senator calls for ‘more flexible’ medical supply chain to counter pandemics

Greg Nash

The U.S. needs a “more flexible” medical supply chain that balances a reliance on trade partners and domestic reserves to successfully tackle the pandemic and prepare for future ones, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Thursday.

“I think we have to be most worried about China these days, especially given the way in which our relations are deteriorating on a daily basis,” Murphy said at The Hill’s “Lessons from a Pandemic: Reliable Access to Affordable Medicines” event.

Murphy, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told The Hill’s Steve Clemons that the U.S. should be wary of too much reliance on foreign partners for supplies like personal protective equipment (PPE) when there is potential for them to hold “leverage” during the “life and death stakes of the pandemic.”

“We have seen how exposed we are when 100 percent of some absolutely necessary medical gear — whether it be the PPE that we didn’t have enough of early in the crisis or the drugs and the vaccine that we are going to need in the future — are all sourced outside of the United States,” Murphy said.

He emphasized that the pandemic is a “dire national emergency” and the country should “err on the side of saving lives” by federalizing the supply chain. He suggested Congress reach out to private manufacturers and pay them to produce key supplies such as personal protective equipment under a strict timeline.

“This is what we did in wartime. We are not doing it now even though this virus is killing more people than many of the kinetic wars we’ve been engaged in,” he said at the event sponsored by Teva Pharmaceuticals.

Murphy criticized President Trump for not “effectively mandating” private manufacturers  to aid in the production of medical supplies for a “foreseeable period of time.”

“I think the administration has totally abdicated its responsibility by not taking a more forceful hand and paying manufacturers what it costs to make this equipment,” he said. “I have a lot of manufacturers who are ready to start turning their production lines over to making medical supplies, but they don’t want to do that unless they have a guarantee of how long that is going to last and what they’re going to get paid.”

Trump invoked the Defense Production Act in late April to ramp up the production of needed materials during the pandemic, such as swabs for testing. He also used it in May to declare meatpacking plants “critical infrastructure,” compelling facilities to remain open during the pandemic.

But the president has been criticized by Democrats for not making broader use of the 1950 law to meet supply needs.

Murphy said that risks to the medical supply chain could be mitigated by a combination of measures.

“I think it’s about resourcing some of this manufacturing from start to finish,” he said. “I think part of it is about effectively paying some manufacturers in the United States to hold reserve manufacturing capacity so that if we need them to start making a particular drug or particular device that they have the ability to scale up. And then lastly, just doing a much better job of stockpiling.”

Tags Chris Murphy Coronavirus Defense Production Act Donald Trump Masks Pandemic PPE swabs Teva Pharmaceuticals ventilators

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