I recently spent a day with the New River Public Health Task Force, meeting with its members and touring facilities. The task force has guided the New River region’s response to the coronavirus, and I appreciated the opportunity to learn more firsthand about their important work.
Virginia as a whole, unfortunately, has lagged in testing for coronavirus relative to other states, but this group has conducted significant numbers of tests, and they are prepared to do more. As testing will help with reopening the economy, I was glad to learn of these successes.
Members of the task force also reiterated a point that needs to be remembered as the Commonwealth moves toward reopening. The point of “flattening the curve,” the mantra Americans heard frequently during the beginning of this pandemic, was not to eliminate the coronavirus. The plan was to reduce the number of cases in order to avoid overwhelming the health care system.
That goal has been achieved, and so it is time to move toward reopening safely. The coronavirus will not go away. However, hopefully vaccines or treatments will reduce its impact. To wait to reopen the economy until the virus was eliminated, which was not the original goal, would be ruinous to the livelihoods and well-being of many.
I am grateful to the New River Public Health Task Force and to all of our health care professionals and public safety officials for their efforts to address the coronavirus.
Supply Chains in Danger
The coronavirus has introduced several new phrases into the popular lexicon, including one I noted above, flattening the curve.
A phrase that is not new but that should be more familiar to Americans now is “supply chains.”
The financial education website Investopedia defines a supply chain as “a network between a company and its suppliers to produce and distribute a specific product to the final buyer.” Behind everything we buy is a supply chain, and the coronavirus crisis indicates the relevance of supply chains to our health and national security as well as finances.
Disruptions in a supply chain can mean shortages and higher prices. Supply chains are also open to manipulation by bad actors.
The coronavirus has trained attention on one particular set of bad actors: the Communist rulers of China. They were not trustworthy international partners before, but their dishonesty and bad intentions have been made clearer by their actions during the pandemic.
The damage inflicted in part by the Chinese Communist Party indicates the urgent necessity of reevaluating its sway over the supply chains of products Americans consume.
On October 30 of last year, a few months before the coronavirus was known about and became a pandemic, the Subcommittee on Health which I serve on held a hearing about safeguarding pharmaceutical supply chains.
In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated that around 80 percent of active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturers are located outside of the United States. Many of these manufacturers are in China and India, although estimates vary over their exact shares.
The hearing was held in part because of drug safety concerns. Impurities had been found in the ingredients of certain drugs, and China housed the manufacturers both of the ingredient and the final product.
One of the witnesses, Rosemary Gibson, had researched China’s role in the U.S. medicine supply chain. She testified about China’s aggressive, government-directed efforts to corner the market of important medical supplies, such as penicillin.
Part of her testimony centered on China’s production of 80 percent of the global supply of pig intestines, which are needed to make the blood thinner heparin. She called them the “rare earths” of medical care. I was intrigued by this comparison because I have noted before China’s domination over the world’s supply of rare earth elements, which are incorporated in many technologies important to national security and advanced manufacturing.
The adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” should be heeded in the supply chains of essential products. It does not apply only to foreign countries. In 2017, pharmaceutical supply chains were threatened by hurricanes devastating Puerto Rico.
But a non-friendly foreign power with influence over supply chains should be a serious concern. We should encourage manufacturing to return to our country as a matter of national security and public health.