As Demand for Masks and Protective Gear Surges, Medtech Steps Up

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The national coronavirus outbreak has caused a ripple wave of uncertainty that leaves no American spared from worry. The threat the virus represents to public health is real, and that is why the first steps individuals and communities take in mitigating and preventing the spread of this virus are critical. The U.S. medical technology (medtech) industry has quickly galvanized to respond to this crisis, with a focus on producing and distributing the personal protective equipment (i.e., masks, gloves, and gowns), diagnostic tests, and ventilators to communities battling the pandemic.

Supply-and-demand dynamics change drastically in times of turmoil, and they’re often unpredictable. This trend has extended to the medical technology industry. Hospitals and other health care providers are asking for unprecedented numbers of personal protective equipment (PPE), but in this instance, Americans should feel reassured that demand levels will be met.  

In recent weeks, medtech companies have been working around the clock to elevate production and meet the incredible surge necessary to help protect citizens and health care workers throughout the United States and across the world. For example, 3M is running manufacturing shifts 24 hours a day, and they’ve hired new workers to run additional production lines.Owens & Minor has invested heavily in additional resources to expand North American manufacturing capacity for its HALYARD-branded PPE, including N95 respirator masks, as rapidly as possible.

In addition, early supply chain challenges stemming from shut down facilities in China where the coronavirus outbreak originated are beginning to resolve themselves - Medline’s Wuhan PPE manufacturing plant is scheduled to be back up and running this week. Just last week, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative eased shipment of those China-based products back into the U.S. by eliminating burdensome import tariffs.

These PPEs can mean the difference between a doctor or a nurse contracting the coronavirus and remaining healthy; they can mean the difference between a fully staffed hospital and a skeleton crew; sometimes, they can mean the difference between life and death. That’s why the medical technology industry is committed to doing whatever is necessary to increase production, streamline dissemination and avoid shortages at all costs. 

These efforts are already proving successful and the value will only compound in the coming weeks. Even in the event of a spike in COVID-19 transmissions, medtech is working 24/7 to help ensure American communities will be able to access to the PPEs they need to stay safe.

Notwithstanding recent ramp-ups, the industry – in partnership with the federal government and state and local governments – has been prepared. Medtech helps stock and maintain the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) – secure warehouses of pre-packed and transport-ready containers of critical medical supplies, including PPEs. Already, states like Washington, Missouri, Delaware and Louisiana have requested PPEs from the SNS, and their requests have been granted. 

But most recently, the medtech industry is seeking out entirely new supply chains. We’re exploring ways to repurpose, retrofit, and reimagine the production of PPEs. Factories that typically make shoes and underwear and diapers are being retooled to make surgical gowns and gloves. Industrial paint masks and automotive respirators are being transformed into health care-specific safety masks.

All of this informs more than just supply-and-demand economics. It’s proof that when we work together, we get more done. There’s immeasurable value and strength in unity. Even once this pandemic is under control, the medical technology industry will continue to leverage collaboration to solve the world’s most pressing health challenges. We won’t stop adapting and improving. And we’ll be even more prepared for our next big obstacle because of it.

Scott Whitaker is President and CEO of AdvaMed, the world's largest medical technology association.

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