There aren’t enough ventilator­s avail­able to cope with coro­n­avirus

The Kansas City Star - - Opinion - New York Times

As the United States braces for an on­slaught of coro­n­avirus cases, hos­pi­tals and gov­ern­ments are con­fronting a grim re­al­ity: There are not nearly enough lifesaving ven­ti­la­tor ma­chines to go around, and there is no way to solve the problem be­fore the dis­ease reaches full throt­tle.

Des­per­ate hos­pi­tals say they can’t find anywhere to buy the med­i­cal de­vices, which help patients breathe and can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death for those fac­ing the most dire res­pi­ra­tory ef­fects of the coro­n­avirus.

Amer­i­can and Euro­pean man­u­fac­tur­ers say they can’t speed up pro­duc­tion enough to meet soar­ing de­mand, at least not any­time soon.

And while the acute short­ages are global, not just in the United States, some Euro­pean gov­ern­ments are de­ploy­ing wartime-mo­bi­liza­tion tac­tics to get fac­to­ries churn­ing out more ventilator­s – and to stop do­mes­tic com­pa­nies from ex­port­ing them.

“The re­al­ity is there is ab­so­lutely not enough,” said Andreas Wieland, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Hamil­ton Med­i­cal in Switzer­land, one of the world’s largest mak­ers of ventilator­s. “We see that in Italy, we saw that in China, we see it in France and other coun­tries. We could sell I don’t know how many.”

Wieland’s com­pany is ship­ping ma­chines as fast it can get them off the assem­bly line. He has moved of­fice work­ers to the fac­tory and hired more em­ploy­ees. Even so, he can’t keep up with the crush of or­ders. “Italy wanted to or­der 4,000, but there’s not a chance,” he said. “We sent them some­thing like 400.”

The coro­n­avirus at­tacks peo­ple’s lungs, in some cases com­pro­mis­ing their abil­ity to breathe. Ventilator­s, which deliver air to the lungs through a tube placed in the wind­pipe, are a cru­cial tool to keep th­ese patients alive. The com­put­er­ized, bed­side ma­chines can cost as much as $50,000.

Hos­pi­tals in the United

States have roughly 160,000 ventilator­s. There are a fur­ther 12,700 in the Na­tional Strate­gic Stock­pile, a cache of med­i­cal sup­plies main­tained by the fed­eral govern­ment to re­spond to na­tional emer­gen­cies.

Earl Ref­s­land, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Al­lied Health­care Prod­ucts, a small ven­ti­la­tor man­u­fac­turer in St. Louis, said that ramp­ing up pro­duc­tion quickly was not possible. For his com­pany, which makes about 1,000 ventilator­s a year, it will take at least eight months to sharply in­crease pro­duc­tion.

“Th­ese are ventilator­s to keep peo­ple alive,” Ref­s­land said. “We aren’t mak­ing wagon wheels. It takes a while.”


NYU Lan­gone Med­i­cal Cen­ter’s Tisch Hos­pi­tal in Man­hat­tan turned a pe­di­atric emer­gency room into a res­pi­ra­tory ward for adults.

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