Trump Invokes Defense Production Act, Responds to the National Shortage of Lifesaving Devices

Second installment in rolling updated regarding national coronavirus news

With the number of coronavirus cases growing at an unprecedented rate every day, medical devices are becoming the most critical tools in the nation’s attempt to contain the worst effects of the pandemic. As the supply of the expensive life-saving equipment is quickly falling short, governors and local health authorities have been calling for federal intervention.

After weeks of maintaining the status that private sectors should voluntarily address the increasing demands for lifesaving devices, President Trump has activated the Defense Production Act, which allows the federal government to shift the private sector into wartime production, on Friday morning to push General Motors into speeding up the production of ventilators. These complex machines are crucial to supporting patients under severe respiratory conditions like Covid-19 as they deliver air to their lungs through a tube placed in their windpipe. Without the ventilators, the patients may die from respiratory failure and doctors would have to face ethical dilemmas.

Furthermore, more than 200 American cities have reported a dire need for basic materials like face masks, test kits and emergency equipment, according to a survey. Yet, the Trump administration has downplayed the severity of the coronavirus until late March and even questioned the recent complaints from governors about the desperate lack of ventilators.

According to Trump, the delay in invoking the Defense Production Act was due to his belief that it would nationalize private industry in the U.S and hurt businesses. Now, as the U.S. has the most reported cases in the world, Trump has decided to take the necessary federal action and directed the calls at automakers like General Motors. 

According to the Washington Post, Trump said in a statement that “negotiations with GM regarding its ability to supply ventilators have been productive, but our fight against the virus is too urgent to allow the give-and-take of the contracting process to continue to run its normal course.” By signing the act, he hopes to “save American lives.”

However, it is not clear what practical impact the order will have as GM announced earlier on Friday that it was still moving forward with the emergency joint venture with a small manufacturer, Ventec Life Systems, despite the pause in talks with the White House over the timeline and price tag of their agreement on speeding up the ventilator production. According to GM spokesman Jim Cain, the order does not change their previously announced plans to produce ventilators, and the companies still expect to begin shipping next month.

Some experts in the field predict that it is impossible to quickly ramp up the global or domestic production of ventilators. According to Marcus Schabacker, chief executive of Emergency Care Research Institute, there is a “domino effect coming into play” where “we are in a global supply chain situation, like it or not, so everybody making ventilators here or elsewhere is going to be looking for parts, often coming from the same suppliers.”

With an inadequate supply of ventilators, hospital networks have started to explore alternatives. In New York, the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis, hospitals developed the method of “ventilator sharing,” where multiple patients depend on a single ventilator. Previously, Johns Hopkins University’s hospital system considered working with the engineering department to build its own ventilators, which was deemed “extreme” by Dr. Gabe Kelen, director of the university’s Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response, as they have never built the complex devices before.

Despite major companies and hospitals working quickly to help support Covid-19 patients with more ventilators, manufacturing industry executives predict that the shortage will last until early summer due to Trump’s delayed response.