Government advisers and officials believe they will need up to 500,000 ventilators to help many elderly Americans survive the Wuhan coronavirus, an industry source has told Breitbart News.
“We’re going to have a dearth of ventilators,” the source told Breitbart. “The government is trying to figure how out how to produce 500,000 ventilators in the next 12 months.”
The 12-month target is a recognition that the virus will not go away quickly, but will likely sweep back at least once, the source said.
China’s Wuhan virus seems to pose little risk to younger patients — but it is a deadly threat to the roughly 30 million Americans who are older than 70. The disease, also called COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO), damages victims’ lungs, effectively choking many in their hospital beds. Bedside ventilators can keep these victims alive long enough for drugs and other therapies to help them recover enough to leave the hospital.
“A planning study run by the federal government in 2005 estimated that if the United States were struck with a moderate pandemic like the 1957 influenza, the country would need more than 64,000 ventilators,” said a March 13 report in the Washington Post. “If we were struck with a severe pandemic like the 1918 Spanish flu, we would need more than 740,000 ventilators — many times more than are available.”
But the nation only has 170,000 ventilators, according to a February inventory by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Many older Americans have also bought assisted-breathing devices that can than provide very high levels of oxygen.
The nation also has a variety of companies that make and sell ventilators, nearly all of which are for professional use by paramedics, nurses, and doctors. Roughly 14,000 ventilators are built in the United States each year.
So far, the administration has not announced production plans, and hospitals have not seen a rush of patients needing ventilators. “There may be a surge in demand. It hasn’t happened yet,” said Eli Crawford, sales manager at Allied Health Care Products, Inc., in St. Louis, Missouri, Breitbart News reported March 13.
However, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has also developed compact ventilators for battlefield use, including the SAVe II ventilator, which is being built by AutoMedx, a Texas-based company with a manufacturing center in Baltimore, Maryland.
“We’re getting ready to build 50,000 of these in the next 12 months,” said James Evans, the CEO of AutoMedx.
DARPA funded the development of the compact ventilators because of the 2003 SARS disease from China and the 2012 MERS disease from Saudi Arabia. Both of those diseases attacked victims’ lungs, and both were contained before they became epidemics.
The company has made 10,000 of its compact ventilators, mostly for battlefield use, at a maximum rate of 3,000 per year, Evans said.
The device uses a fist-sized German-made pump than can last for 833 days. “These devices have to deliver a very accurate amount of air per breath, so … we can’t just use any pump off the shelf,” Evans said.
“Everyone is scrambling now to get their hands on components as soon as possible,” Evans said, adding, “This will get more complicated as it gets worse.”
The AutoMedx ventilators have simplified controls so they can be used by stunned soldiers under fire. For example, the device includes a simple tube which has to be inserted into the lungs, and the air volume is set by using the height of each victim.
The simplicity is valuable, Evans said, because “we’re not only going to run out of ventilators, but we are also going to greatly exceed the number of trained professionals.”
In Italy, “the healthcare professionals are getting sick at a faster rate than any other group – so you have to wonder if there will be anyone ready to care for the sick,” Evans said.
Some hospital ventilators allow air from the victims’ lungs to go back into the machines. That requires the machines to be sterilized between uses to prevent each patient from infecting subsequent patients with additional infections. That’s a big issue because the shortage of ventilators will require they be quickly passed from each patient to the new arrivals.
The device can get wiped down with disinfectant, and the ventilator is not contaminated by the patients’ breath.
In Italy, patients use ventilators for about six days.
The battlefield ventilators can quickly help many patients, but are not intended to replace more sophisticated hospital ventilators. “They are not a 100 percent solution,” but they are better than the manual plastic-bag ventilators which were provided to the family members of sick Chinese, Evans said.
Once delivered, the DARPA ventilators “can be kept in storage for years,” Evans said. “What we’re really doing is building a capability, not just for an immediate crisis,” but also for the next epidemic.
“The richest country in the world needs to get itself ready for something like this – we’re vastly unprepared for pandemics,” he said, referring to World War II production efforts.
In World War II, U.S. shipyards were able to build complete Liberty-class cargo ships in weeks. The Willow Run aircraft factory began construction in June 1941 and rolled out its first bomber in September 1942.