By now, most of us know that shortages of N95 masks are one of the main issues regarding the pandemic right now. This face mask, critical for the protection of healthcare workers, has been scarce for several months now, and the reason for this is probably a group of problems that can be pointed out in the supply chain. Keep reading to learn more about why the supply chain for N95 respirators is not perfect.
Problems in the supply chain for N95 respirators
A supply chain refers to the whole process of making and selling any particular product. This includes every stage: supply of materials, manufacturing of the product, distribution, and finally, sale. The correct management of a supply chain is fundamental for any company to work successfully.
An efficient and optimal supply chain isn’t only important for the customer to meet the need of a certain product, but when managed in the best way, it reduces the costs and ramps up the production cycle of the product.
N95 respirators are a highly requested item right now, necessary for the protection of healthcare workers across the United States. But, sadly, many problems have been affecting various parts of the supply chain that are making it difficult for these products to reach healthcare centers. This results in our first responders and healthcare workers working without the proper protection.
- Counterfeit products inside the supply chain and other scams
Scammers are taking advantage of the overwhelming need for N95 masks, and have started to leak countless counterfeit respirators into the supply chain, and even making deals for products that don’t exist. Fraud warnings have been issued by two leading N95 respirator manufacturers during the pandemic. They have received complaints about attempts to sell non-existent respirators.
One case of counterfeit N95 masks making it into the front lines of the pandemic in the USA has already been reported. The case happened in Teaneck, New Jersey, at the Holy Name Medical Center. A 1,000 N95 mask batch arrived from a trusted vendor, but they determined, after clinicians tested a small sample as part of their policy, that they were fake.
- Little information is given about the N95 respirator supply chain
Politicians have been calling to bring the manufacturing of PPE inside the USA, but they have denounced that there’s a secretive nature to the N95 mask supply chain, making it difficult to attain this goal. The lack of transparency makes it hard to determine how much of the production occurs inside the country, therefore not being able to know just how much our production has increased.
Without this basic information about the N95 masks supply chain, the vulnerabilities or gaps inside it are difficult to assess. Experts note that it isn’t just about bringing the production inside the country, but also about understanding the problems inside the chain and finding solutions.
A study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that 3M, Honeywell International, and MSA Safety, which are the three largest manufacturers of PPE in the USA, haven’t disclosed any of the basic information regarding the supply chain.
- Reliance on import of N95 masks
As we mentioned above, bringing the production and manufacturing of N95 masks inside the United States is a big goal to make sure the country is well-equipped. But, the country has been relying on foreign countries to produce the majority of the medical PPE, particularly N95 respirators.
For cost minimization, importing PPE is a logical way of managing the supply of these products. But, even with domestic manufacturers ramping up their production of medical PPE, the shortages of these products are solely on the hands of foreign countries.
- Scarcity of raw material needed for N95 respirators
Melt-blown material, a fabric made out of polypropylene, is the raw material used in the manufacturing of N95 respirators. The processes used to treat the polypropylene result in a fabric with multiple holes that can trap very small particles, and that’s why it’s used to make the filter of N95 masks.
But, the production of this material is limited around the world, as it’s a complicated and relatively expensive procedure, with the need for specialized machinery and workers. The manufacturers of this raw material, amid the pandemic, have been ramping the production, but it doesn’t seem to be enough to meet the world’s needs.
This has resulted in difficulty in ramping production of N95 masks, as this raw material is already scarce around the world. Opening up new factories for its production is difficult, so we rely on the limited existing ones.
N95 masks: what are they, and why are they so important?
N95 masks are the best disposable face mask for virus protection we have to face the pandemic. It offers more antiviral properties than reusable, and even surgical face masks. It’s often said that KN95 masks, which are made under Chinese standards of filtration, can substitute N95 masks.
Among its many uses, N95 masks are used right now by healthcare workers, who need the most protection against the coronavirus. As it’s a scarce product, it’s use is prioritized to first responders and healthcare providers. The mask is also effective against other viruses, like the flu, and in other work settings, it can filter out other harmful particles, like dust or coal smoke.
We would like to remind our readers that we all need to stay protected. Online you can find many options for sale, like 3M N95 masks including the models 3M 8210 and 3M 8511. You can even buy in bulk or wholesale, and pair your face mask with a face shield. It’s also important to know that kids need protection too, and adult-sized masks don’t protect them, so they need a smaller size.