There aren’t enough ventilators available to cope with coronavirus
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.