Reports: China has monopoly on medical supplies and drugs – could “shut down US hospitals in months”


Some experts are saying the coronavirus situation has exposed a Chinese secret – essentially a monopoly on U.S. medical supplies and prescription drugs.

The coronavirus outbreak has exposed the United States’ dangerous dependence on China for pharmaceutical and medical supplies, including an estimated 97 percent of all antibiotics and 80 percent of the active pharmaceutical ingredients needed to produce drugs in the United States.

The topic was covered in a recent report by Breitbart:

Gibson, senior adviser at the Hastings Center, offered her remarks on Thursday’s edition of SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Tonight with host Rebecca Mansour and special guest host Ed Martin.

Mansour noted how the coronavirus outbreak in China has exposed America’s dangerous dependence on Chinese production of pharmaceutical and medical supplies, including an estimated 97 percent of all antibiotics and 80 percent of the active pharmaceutical ingredients needed for domestic drug production.

Gibson said, “If China shuts the door on exports of medicines and the ingredients to make them, within a couple of months our pharmacies would be empty. Our healthcare system would cease to function. That’s how dependent we are.”

The economic repercussions of the coronavirus reveal the dangers of allowing one country to have a near monopoly on global manufacturing, David Dayen explains in an article at the American Prospect:

China is a source of not only finished goods, but also of input parts and raw materials.

A substantial number of the materials needed for defense and electronic systems come from China, and that nation is “the single or sole supplier for a number of specialty chemicals,” according to a recent Defense Department report.

Rare earth minerals, which are critical to electronics, are largely mined in China.

As a result, Chinese disruptions don’t just hit Chinese manufacturing, they hit everyone’s.

Automakers have already had to slow or shut down factories globally due to supply shortages.

Perhaps the biggest concern is over medical supplies. China produces and exports a large amount of pharmaceuticals to the U.S., including 97 percent of all antibiotics and 80 percent of the active ingredients used to make drugs here.

Penicillin, ibuprofen, and aspirin largely come from China.

Last month, the medical supply firm Cardinal Health recalled 2.9 million surgical gowns “cross contaminated” at a plant in China; the blood pressure drug valsartan also saw shortages recently, thanks to tainted active ingredients at one Chinese plant.

The combination of supply chain disruptions and increased demand at hospitals if coronavirus spreads to the U.S. could prove devastating.

In a dark irony, most of the world’s face masks—now ubiquitous in China as a precaution—are made in China and Taiwan, and even for those made elsewhere, some component parts are Chinese-sourced.

Shortages have led China to declare the masks a “strategic resource,” reserving them for medical workers.

U.S. hospitals are “critically low” on respiratory masks, according to medical-supply middlemen. Lack of protective gear could increase vulnerability to the virus, and the one place on earth suffering from production shutdowns is the one place where most of the protective gear originates.

In testimony yesterday before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Scott Gottlieb, a physician and the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner in the Trump administration, explained in detail the extent of the U.S. pharmaceutical industry’s dependence on China:

About 40 percent of generic drugs sold in the U.S. have only a single manufacturer. A significant supply chain disruption could cause shortages for some of many of these products.

Last year, manufacturing of intermediate or finished goods in China, as well as pharmaceutical source material, accounted for 95 percent of U.S. imports of ibuprofen, 91 percent of U.S. imports of hydrocortisone, 70 percent of U.S. imports of acetaminophen, 40 to 45 percent of U.S. imports of penicillin, and 40 percent of U.S. imports of heparin, according to the Commerce Department.

In total, 80 percent of the U.S. supply of antibiotics are made in China.

While much of the fill finishing work (the actual formulation of finished drug capsules and tablets) is done outside China (and often in India) the starting and intermediate chemicals are often sourced in China.

Moreover, the U.S. generic drug industry can no longer produce certain critical medicines such as penicillin and doxycycline without these chemical components.

According to a report from the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, China’s chemical industry, which accounts for 40 percent of global chemical industry revenue, provides many ingredients for drug products.

It’s these source materials — where in many cases China is the exclusive source of the chemical ingredients used for the manufacture of a drug product — that create choke points in the global supply chain for critical medicines.

Moreover, when it comes to starting material for the manufacture of pharmaceutical ingredients, a lot of this production is centered in China’s Hubei Provence, the epicenter of coronavirus.

Most drug makers have a one to three-months of inventory of drug ingredients on hand. But these supplies are already being drawn down.

Among big [active pharmaceutical ingredient] makers in Wuhan are Wuhan Shiji Pharmaceutical, Chemwerth, Hubei Biocause, Wuhan Calmland Pharmaceuticals.

It appears, in simple terms, that we need to be devoid of our dependence on Chinese-made pharmaceuticals like we are now devoid of dependence on foreign sources of oil.

In the meantime, earlier this week we reported on how military bases in Texas and Southern California have already geared up and mobilized to combat coronavirus cases.

And in an announcement this week, the U.S. Northern Command is executing plans to prepare for a potential pandemic of the novel coronavirus, now called COVID19, according to Navy and Marine Corps service-wide messages.

An executive order issued by the Joint Staff and approved by Defense Secretary Mark Esper this month directed Northern Command and geographic combatant commanders to initiate pandemic plans.  That includes ordering commanders to prepare for widespread outbreaks and confining service members with a history of travel to China.

The Navy and Marine Corps messages issued Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, reference an executive order directing U.S. Northern Command to implement the Department of Defense Global Campaign plan for Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Diseases 3551-13.

The document serves as the Pentagon’s blueprint for planning and preparing for widespread dispersion of influenza and previously unknown diseases.

U.S. Northern Command said Wednesday it was directed the Joint Staff Feb. 1 to commence “prudent planning” in their assigned role synchronizing the department’s plans for pandemic flu and disease.

But in no way “does the planning indicate a greater likelihood of an event developing. As military professionals, planning for a range of contingencies is something we owe the American people,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mike Hatfield said.

“We coordinate with other combatant commands to assess potential impacts in the event of a pandemic and we ensure the U.S. military is poised to respond as required,” Hatfield said in a statement.

“The military profession fosters a culture of planning, and the fact that we are coordinating planning efforts across the geographical combatant commands is consistent with how we prepare to respond, if directed.”

Several countries have evacuated their citizens from China, primarily from the city of Wuhan, which is at the center of an area where some 50 million people are prevented from leaving in an effort to contain the virus.

South Korea and India flew hundreds of their citizens out of the country.

While officials with the WHO were initially simply expressing caution about the virus, by declaring that countries needed to prepare for “domestic outbreak control” it escalated the preparation among many countries.

Most cases of the virus thus far have been people who visited China or their family members. The agency said they acted out of concern for poorer countries who have less ability to respond to such an emergency.

By doing so, a more coordinated international response can be put forth and it can also bring additional money and resources.

“Countries need to get ready for possible importation in order to identify cases as early as possible and in order to be ready for a domestic outbreak control, if that happens,” said Gauden Galea, the WHO representative in Beijing.

President Trump has commissioned a coronavirus task force, which last Friday announced a number of actions aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus outbreaks, including declaring a public-health emergency in the United States.

The task force said that starting Feb. 2, all returning U.S. citizens who traveled to Hubei Province, China over the past 14 days will undergo a mandatory quarantine for 14 days. Wuhan City, the epicenter of the viral outbreak is in that Chinese province.

In addition, the U.S. will no longer allow foreign nationals who have traveled to China over the past 14 days and “pose a risk” of spreading the disease into the U.S., according to Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have traveled to the area will face quarantines.

Nancy Messonnier, director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory diseases said that this was the first time in 50 years the CDC had issued a quarantine.

Health officials said that the patients are currently being housed at the March Air Reserve base in Riverside County, California. One individual apparently tried to leave the facility but was held on the base.

Several countries including the U.S. and Singapore have implemented stronger travel recommendations and border closures in light of the WHO declaration of a public health emergency and a surge in coronavirus cases world-wide.

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