Major U.S. manufacturers answering call for ventilator needs

Major U.S. manufacturers answering call for ventilator needs

N95 respirator (Image from the FDA)

U.S. manufacturers — inside and outside medtech — are offering help amid shortages of ventilators, respirator masks and more needed to combat coronavirus.

News broke this week that Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York is reportedly experiencing shortages of masks and other protective equipment, and it is not alone in that regard. Last week, reports claimed that some U.S. hospitals were facing short supplies of N95 respirator masks from 3M (NYSE:MMM). The company said in a news release on March 2 that its plant in Aberdeen, S.D., is running around the clock producing the masks.

At a coronavirus task force press conference this week, Vice President Mike Pence also asked construction companies to donate to their local hospitals their stocks of N95 respirator masks and stop ordering more for the time being. Yesterday, President Donald Trump announced that he is invoking the Defense Production Act, a Korean War–era law that enables government actions to boost needed supplies.

In response to the several reports of shortages amid the coronavirus crisis, Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) announced late last night that it is set to double its capacity to manufacture and supply ventilators

Fridley, Minn.-based Medtronic doubled the number of shifts in manufacturing ventilators at its Galway, Ireland manufacturing facility. The plant is being brought to a 24/7 operation and additional staff is being transferred from other Medtronic sites to increase activities, according to a news release. The company said it is prioritizing high-risk/high-need areas for ventilator allocation on a weekly basis, but is monitoring the situation as it unfolds.

The medtech giant produces ventilators for the acute segment for in-hospital patients and the sub-acute segment for those out-of-hospital. It manufactures the Puritan Bennett 980 and Puritan Bennett 840 ventilators for ill patients and a high-acuity setting, which is criteria that could include a COVID-19 patient.

“Medtronic recognizes the demand for ventilators in this environment has far outstripped supply,” executive VP and president of Medtronic’s minimally invasive therapies group Bob White said in the release. “No single company will be able to fill the current demands of global healthcare systems. However, with all manufacturers increasing their production and through partnerships with governments, hospitals and global health organizations, Medtronic is committed to getting more ventilators into the market and to the right locations in the world to help doctors and patients dealing with COVID-19.”

Bloomberg reported that General Motors CEO Mary Barra is offering the automaker’s closed factories for the production of ventilators as the crisis persists. The report said that Barra has made several suggestions regarding how GM could help the government, but the government has not yet formally requested use of GM’s facilities.

GM’s previous efforts include using plants for producing tanks during World War II, along with other auto manufacturers. A report in The Hill said it is unclear how long it would take for GM to potentially develop manufacturing capabilities for ventilators.

Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to say that the company “will make ventilators if there is a shortage.” Musk made the comment in a thread in which he claimed the panic surrounding the virus is more dangerous than the virus itself, and has also used the social media platform to question if there is in fact a shortage of ventilators.