With the reintroduction of the Medical Supplies for Pandemics Act in the Senate last week, U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) sought to more tightly link the federal government and medical product distributors to strengthen domestic manufacturing and refill the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS).
“Over the past year, we have witnessed how ill-prepared our country was for a large-scale public health crisis like COVID-19,” Bennet said. “While we were relying on China to manufacture critical supplies like PPE, our health care workers on the front lines were forced to risk their own health because we were unable to provide them with proper protective gear. By increasing domestic manufacturing of supplies like PPE, this bipartisan legislation will better prepare us for the next public health emergency.”
The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States last year were rife with stories of health care workers struggling to cope due to lack of supplies. As the supply chain crumbled, which many attribute to overreliance on foreign sources, attentions pivoted to the SNS, but many of the supplies and equipment there were already expired. With states often left to deal with the issue themselves, a bidding war also kicked off over what supplies were available.
The senators hope to tack the Medical Supplies for Pandemics Act as an amendment to the Endless Frontier Act to guarantee such dire straits do not happen again. The bill would incentivize domestic manufacturers to strengthen supply chains and create domestic reserves of critical medical supplies. It would also offer up to $500 million annually through 2024 to create a supply chain flexibility manufacturing program to that end.
“When the COVID-19 outbreak began last year, the Chinese government’s effort to cover up the severity while stockpiling critical medical supplies hindered the United States’ ability to respond to the pandemic and made clear that our country is far too reliant on foreign nations to deal with future pandemics,” Tillis said. “I’m proud to reintroduce this bipartisan legislation with Senator Bennet in order to make much-needed reforms to strengthen our ability to respond to future disasters and provide frontline workers the resources they need during public health emergencies.”
The bill would also incentivize joint industrial-based ventures to produce critical medical supplies and tap distributors of medical supplies to manage the domestic reserves held by the SNS, continually refreshing and replenishing its stocks.