As the COVID-19 pandemic roars on, the government stockpile of once-in-demand ventilators has reportedly turned into a collection of unused devices.
The Washington Post reports that, following the panic caused by an anticipated ventilator shortage and subsequent rush to add to the stockpile after President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, the approach to treating COVID-19 changed and continued efforts to produce ventilators may come too late.
According to the report, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it distributed 15,057 ventilators as of last Friday, with 95,713 ventilators remaining in the stockpile, among which 94,352 had come from contracts signed since the pandemic began.
When the pandemic began, ventilators were highly sought after, but, more than five months in, The Washington Post said medical experts claim intubation for COVID-19 patients is less common, as doctors are more likely to flip patients onto their sides or stomachs or provide continuous or bilevel positive airway pressure (CPAP and BPAP machines that are commonly used for sleep apnea).
The Washington Post says the percentage of hospitalized patients put on ventilators has dropped, while the projected need for the machines went from one-third of hospitalized patients in the spring to less than one-fourth as recently as this month. Now, there are reportedly tens of thousands of machines sitting in the strategic stockpile instead of being used to treat patients.
Among those excess ventilators are machines produced by the likes of Philips (NYSE:PHG), which made news last month after a Congressional report accused the Trump administration of bungling plans to obtain the company’s ventilators early on in the pandemic, allegedly squandering more than $500 million in a contract with the Amsterdam-based company. Philips is contracted to produce 43,000 ventilators for the stockpile by the end of the year, having already quadrupled its production capacity from March to July.
In March, Ford partnered with GE Healthcare (NYSE:GE) in an effort to produce 50,000 ventilators in 100 days. The partnership reportedly hit a skid with parts shortages around the world, but Ford told The Washington Post that it had shipped more than 42,000 ventilators by mid-August.
Last week, Ventec Life Systems announced that it had delivered more than 20,000 of its VOCSN ventilators to the stockpile through its manufacturing collaboration with General Motors. Days later, it was announced that GM would turn over the production to the medtech company once their federal contract for 30,000 ventilators is completed.
“Our hope is that social distancing and other mitigation efforts reduce the spread, however, critical care ventilators like VOCSN continue to support patients as they fight COVID-19 and will be needed until there is a vaccine,” Ventec chief strategy officer Chris Brooks told MassDevice.
An HHS spokeswoman told The Washington Post that, while there isn’t currently a shortage of ventilators in the stockpile, the ones procured through government contracts will allow the U.S. to respond to hot spots, as well as future public health emergencies. The spokeswoman also said that several states requested more ventilators than they actually needed.
Philips did not immediately respond to request for comment.
This story has been updated with a statement from Ventec Life Systems.