The Obama administration significantly depleted the federal stockpile of N95 respirator masks to deal with the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009 and never rebuilt the stockpile despite calls to do so, according to reports.
The reports come amid attacks on the Trump administration by some state and local officials, along with some in the media, who suggest that Trump is responsible for a shortage of N95 respirator masks.
“Alex Azar, secretary of HHS, told Congress last month that the stockpile contains 30 million surgical masks and 12 million of the more protective N95 masks,” Bloomberg News reported. “He said there were an additional 5 million N95 masks that may have passed their expiration date.”
“The national stockpile used to be somewhat more robust. In 2006, Congress provided supplemental funds to add 104 million N95 masks and 52 million surgical masks in an effort to prepare for a flu pandemic,” Bloomberg News continued. “But after the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009, which triggered a nationwide shortage of masks and caused a 2- to 3-year backlog orders for the N95 variety, the stockpile distributed about three-quarters of its inventory and didn’t build back the supply.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that “a safety-equipment industry association and a federally sponsored task force both recommended that depleted supplies of N95 respirator masks, which filter out airborne particles, be replenished by the stockpile, which is maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”
Charles Johnson, president of the International Safety Equipment Association, told the Times, “Our association is unaware of any major effort to restore the stockpile to cover that drawdown.”
The Trump administration activated the Defense Production Act in case more equipment is needed, but has not actually put it to use because the administration says that private companies have stepped up to the plate to start manufacturing equipment that is needed.
3M announced late last week:
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, 3M has doubled its global output of N95 respirators to an annual rate of over 1.1 billion per year, or nearly 100 million per month globally.
In the U.S., 3M currently manufactures more than 400 million N95 respirators annually, which is increasingly being directed to support both government and public health response. The company also manufactures respirators at locations in Europe, Asia Pacific, and Latin America.
In addition, 3M is increasing its investments, primarily in the U.S., to expand its global capacity by over 30 percent in the next 12 months.
The company is also maximizing production of a wide range of other products used in the COVID-19 response globally including hand sanitizers, disinfectants and filtration solutions as the pharmaceutical industry works to find a vaccine to fight the virus.
Mike Roman, 3M chairman and chief executive officer, said, “This pandemic is affecting us all, and we are doing all we can to support public health and especially our first-responders and those impacted by this global health crisis. We are mobilizing all available resources and rapidly increasing output of critical supplies healthcare workers in the United States and around the world need to help protect their lives as they treat others.”