Due to the current crisis, the demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as the N95 masks is constantly on the increase. It is so surprising that despite the hike in the cost of N95 respirators, some U.S. states reputed for their wealth cannot to date source an adequate supply.
Some other factories that were not dealing with mask production in the past are trying to make a shift to the production of N95 masks, but the combination of restrictions enacted by regulations and the uncertainty in demand is preventing these factories from scaling up and it is also serving as a deterrent for other companies who wanted to do such.
This has resulted in a lot of complaints from different corners with diverse people calling for the presidency to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) to enforce and motivate private companies to increase the production of these masks. This as well has made the government start using this law to compel these companies to begin production.
This has added to the pressure for more aggressive actions as there is a widespread shortage across the country. Also, the United States Food and Drug Administration has been slow to remove regulatory restrictions that make products take longer time and makes authorization of imported foreign Kn95 masks a tedious process.
Not many months ago, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that the public should wear a cloth face mask and reserve the more effective N95 masks for health personnel to help close the wide gap between demand and supply and give time for an increase in production to take place.
This has made it necessary for the government to come up with a fast and effective strategy that will substantially lead to an increase in supply. The truth government restrictions and tough handedness may increase supply for a short time, to get a sustainable increase, a more effective approach is needed to bring out the best of American industrial capacity.
A brief look at the Defense Production Act
The Defense Production Act let known an interesting section of the military-industrial production during the World War II era. It provides the authority to effectively nationalize certain sectors and it is also flexible as against what many believe. It as well gives the power to pursue a more incentive-driven approach appropriate for the current crisis.
The Act has three primary sections. Title I allows the president to force businesses to accept and prioritize contracts relating to the provision of goods or materials necessary for national defense. Title III gives access to some tools that can modify the incentives private producers face. This includes the ability to offer guaranteed loans and purchase guarantees. Title VII is a general section that gives the ability to create voluntary agreements with private industry and shield them from antitrust liability.
Assure purchase guarantees
Now that it is evident that there is an increase in demand for N95 masks in the market with manufacturers seeing the need to increase production. It is wise to know that additional support from the government is needed through well-structured purchase guarantees for companies to have optimal production.
The government must educate the public about the benefit of wearing a facemask. The majority of individuals out there are still unsure about how beneficial wearing a face mask is. The public needs to be notified that the cost of buying a facemask is much cheaper than the cost of damages that will be incurred if it is not done. To help out with this, the government can subsidize the price of the N95 masks to guarantee purchase from the general public.
The United State public health officials have up to date discouraged the widespread usage of the N95 masks because of the fear of a reduction in supply for healthcare workers which is already below the quantity required.
Contrary to what many have believed, the general use of these masks will have gone a long way to reduce the spread of the infection, if not for the shortage in supply. Therefore, to help with this, the government has to increase supply, find a way to make sure that the masks are cheap to ensure that the public will buy them.
For companies that are not primarily mask-producers to shift to production entails large fixed costs. But the uncertainty about how long the ongoing high demand will last is a major deterrent to such efforts.
Most manufacturers face uncertainty whether this period of demand surge will last for a month, two months, three months, eight months, or more, whether the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will recommend that the general public wear N95 masks or it will still be reserved for health workers or whether the emergence of a vaccine will arrest its progress
To assuage these fears of uncertainties identified and others unidentified, the federal government needs to give these firms more assurance by using purchasing guarantee of the DPA. Even if the government ends up buying these masks going by the act, it provides an excellent opportunity to build up a strategic medical stockpile whose limited supplies cause the shortage problem in the first place.
Provide antitrust liability protection
The government needs to provide antitrust liability protection to private firms that are helping to produce these essential facemasks and shield them from possible antitrust suits that could occur while they are coordinating mask production.
To complement this, the U.S. Congress should also consider issuing liability waivers to any party that receives a government contract to produce personal protective equipment (PPE). This will motivate these private companies to be assured of the sales of their products.
Reduce regulatory and legal barriers
Health regulating agencies also need to step down on their restrictions that significantly slow down the production processes of N95 masks and discourage new companies from embarking on mask production. To help with the shortage, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to learn from its experience with ramping up diagnostic testing for COVID-19.
The FDA should issue temporary EUA exemptions for all domestic manufacturers of N95 masks just as it did for diagnostic testing. The CDC can delegate the testing that is currently done at the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory within NIOSH to University and Private Labs. The gears used by the national laboratory can be made available to these universities and private labs so that the standard will be upheld.
These suggestions are to help proffer a solution to the current shortage crisis of N95 masks in the United States. Other contributions can be made to ensure that adequate protection is available for all and the battle against the virus may be brought to an end as early as possible.
The need to boost up the production of N95 masks in the U.S. cannot be overemphasized. The government must do all it can to make sure that there is enough to go around. It is not good to depend on other countries for domestic supplies as these countries will always consider themselves before others.