The Trump administration plans to partner with domestic manufacturers to expand and maintain supplies housed in the national stockpile, senior administration officials said Thursday.
The initiative aims to keep a 90-day rotating inventory of strategic supplies in the stockpile in a bid to create a “buffer” allowing private companies to boost manufacturing capacity in the likely event of a second coronavirus wave this fall.
President Donald Trump is scheduled to tour one of medical supplier Owens & Minor’s distribution facilities outside Allentown, Pa., Thursday.
The stockpile has become a flashpoint in the debate around the administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, as the health industry continues to struggle with protective equipment for frontline workers. Trump officials have pointed the finger at the Obama administration for failing to restock after the H1N1 outbreak in 2009, but critics accuse the administration of ignoring the problem for the three years that Trump was in office before the pandemic struck.
“If I had one sentence for you, what we’re doing is creating a much more robust, much more capable and much less vulnerable Strategic National Stockpile,” a senior administration official said on a call with reporters. The official could not be identified under the terms of the call.
Fears over a ventilator shortage have calmed after states imposed economic shutdowns and restrictions on social gatherings, and after the administration eventually recruited private manufacturers to produce more of the critical breathing machines. But health care workers are still rationing protective equipment like N95 masks, and other essential workers have called for their own protective supplies.
The stockpile contained 13 million N95 masks at the beginning of the pandemic, officials said, compared to over 100 million before the H1N1 outbreak. The administration’s eventual goal is to stock 1 billion of the masks, with 300 million by fall, and to boost supplies of medical gowns from 2 million to 7 million. The administration also plans to broaden the type of stored products to include testing supplies and millions of doses of ventilator drugs, which have also been in shortage.
Officials said the new model for the stockpile would include a regular rotation of new supplies in accordance with a product’s shelf life, as well as “surge capacity” contracts with American manufacturers.
“This is going to require the permanent restructuring of a whole series of relationships using information technology and contracting capabilities very different than anyone has in the past,” the official said.
IT solutions that will be “built out over time” will allow the government to monitor domestic supplies with manufacturers and hospitals, and pinpoint where a surge is needed to prevent a shortage, another official said.
Officials hope the initiative will help create jobs and avoid other shortages. This year, the White House had to airlift supplies from other countries, such as nasal swabs used in testing from Italy.