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Amid Coronavirus Outbreak, Blunt Urges Support for Bipartisan Bill to Protect Medical Supply Chain

March 19, 2020

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (Mo.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, urged the Senate to back legislation he helped introduce to protect the nation’s medical supply chain.

Approximately 40% of finished drugs and 80% of active pharmaceutical ingredients are manufactured overseas—primarily from China and India. The Commission on America’s Medical Security Act would help safeguard America’s medical supply chain and address shortages due to the United States’ dependence on foreign-made medical equipment.

Following are Excerpts of  Blunt’s Remarks:

“The response to the coronavirus has made it clear that there are lots of things that are the responsibility of individuals. Things like staying home if you're sick, frankly staying home if you're more likely than others to be sick. Practicing the kinds of hygiene our mothers taught us we should follow all along. Personally, I may have set  a new personal record for just washing my hands in the last two weeks. I’ve never been adverse to washing my hands, but I don't know if I’ve ever washed them a half a dozen times a day or more before.

“But those kinds of things are left up to us. Then there are things that are left up to the local level, things to determine in a local community whether things should be open or not, what kind of activities should be the activities where you draw the line in terms of crowds, much likely to be better decided at a local level by even a state or, more likely, by a mayor or a county executive than by somebody here in Washington.

“Then, at the national level, we're moving toward our third package now in the last few days to try to deal with this. The first package was about $8 billion, really focused at the immediate health response: supplies, developing a vaccine, trying to figure out what the right therapies were, understanding the things we needed to do to further help hospitals get ready and to further encourage people to go places other than hospitals when that worked. All of those things were part of that first package.

“The package that we sent to the president that the president signed last night, about $100 billion, by almost any standard a huge amount of money to put together in just a short period of time, that $100 billion, while it continued to work on the health care side, also was very focused on just keeping people on a payroll if they're on a payroll. That $100 billion focused to a great extent on how you keep people who have decided they needed to be quarantined or who were in quarantine by a doctor or by a business that in effect was quarantined because it was closed up. Keeping those people on that payroll, continuing to keep that part of our economy going.

“Now today we move to the third package, which is $1 trillion. $8 billion, $100 billion, now $1 trillion. That $1 trillion designed to do all the other things I talked about but also designed to keep this economy at a point where, when we get through this, we'll be as nearly to where we would have been otherwise as at all possible. Interestingly, Mr. President, here we're going into a situation where we're trying to protect an economy that didn't have any systemic problems with it. It was an economy that was by all measures unbelievably good and then suddenly people are encouraged, sometimes required, to back away from that economy, to cease participating in lots of that economy, partly because we've encouraged part of that economy to cease being part of the active economy. And what do we do there?

“So this is going to be a different kind of response, more focused in many cases where in the past people said we need more of your money, many of the questions we just need to have an access to more money that we can easily pay back when we get through this. … Then there are some things we need to put in this package that simply the government is going to have to look at in ways we haven't looked at before. …

“In the past, the idea that we'd worry about the supply chain would not have been at the top of the list of the things that the American people would be thinking needed to be on the first list they needed to look at when they think about public health.

“But what we see happening now is a direct reminder that medical supplies we use can come from all over the world, and in a pandemic, everybody in the world may think they need what you think you would have received and expected to get more than they think they should send it to you. We depend on manufacturers in other countries. Approximately 40% of the finished drugs and 80% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients are manufactured overseas, primarily in China and India. …

“There's also a spotlight on our supply chain challenges generally. I think, as a result of this, we're going to look at that sooner than we would have. But right now in this bill, I’m hoping we include an immediate look because we have quickly gone through a series of warning signs now that make us understand why we need to look at this and look at it now. On February the 27th, the Food and Drug Administration announced the first coronavirus-related drug shortage. February 27th. On March the 10th, the FDA halted its routine overseas inspections of drugs and devices. Last week, state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised concern about the looming shortage of the coronavirus extraction kit, reagents needed to actually conduct the diagnostic tests. Not to mention some concerns about the swab you might need in some cases to take just the normal flu exam.

“It's more and more clear that protecting our nation's medical supply chain is both a priority for public health and for national security. Obviously, the supply chain has become more and more global. Now, economic efficiency makes sense. Being more competitive makes sense. It's fine to buy things from other countries, but it's better if you have multiple options, it's better if you have other options, including domestic production. It's especially true when it comes to vital options like medical devices, medical supplies, pharmaceuticals, products we need for public health and safety.

“Now, we see now that this is a problem. It's a problem that's sort of come upon us in this pandemic environment in a way that we had not thought we'd have to deal with it before. But we do have to deal with it. And we're hoping in this bill, this is one of the places we can deal with it. … If you're relying on factories in China or South Korea or some other place that have shut down temporarily, suddenly your factory has become too dependent on a partner that's no longer there.

“So a bipartisan group of senators, including myself and Senator Alexander and Senator Durbin and Senator Murray, have written legislation to figure out how to assess our vulnerability in the global supply chain for medical supplies. We want the National l Academy of Sciences, Medicine and Engineering to look at this issue and to look at it now. To look at this issue and determine how dependent we have really become on supplies from other countries and then to make recommendations as to what some of our options might be. We also would like to hear their views on how we can make our supply chain more resilient for critical drugs and equipment, what kind of backup plan we need to always be thinking about. …

“The president has, to some extent, addressed this idea yesterday by talking about a defense manufacturing strategy. That defense manufacturing strategy may need to be more robust in some areas just simply because whether it’s component parts to a medical device or pharmaceutical ingredients or simply the gloves and masks and swab sticks and things that you need for basic health care when you're trying to determine what your health care environment is, and then deal with it are out there and we need to look at it.

“One example may be the -- just the, again, the daily dependence on the daily protective equipment that our health care providers have. We're interested to know what we need to do and what we need to do over the next 60 to 90 days. What we need to do over the next two or three years. But what we're going to be asking this commission to look at is -- we want them to look at it quickly. This is a priority. It has become an immediate priority. We need to know as we now look at another one of these in a series of epidemics where this has been a concern. Whether it's Ebola or swine flu or bird flu or Zika or SARS, we've had too many of these in too short a period of time. And in that same period of time, the globalization of the supply chain has dramatically changed.

“So as we prepare for future hazards, we be want to ensure the supply chain is in place to allow us to provide the kind of health care we need, the kind of response we need, the kind of protection we need. This should be part of the bill we send to the president, hopefully between now and no later than the end of next week. It's one of the things that will begin to set us on a better direction and create greater security, greater health security, as we look at our other security concerns. And, with that, Mr. President, I would yield the floor.”

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