Trump administration officials want to stockpile 400 million syringes and needles by December in anticipation of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Administration officials testified before Congress on Tuesday on the procurement of supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic after criticism of a lack of supplies at the onset of the pandemic back in March.
“We are on a glide path to have 400 million needles and syringes by December,” said Rear Adm. John Polowczyk, vice director of logistics for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Polowczyk was tapped in April to helm the government’s efforts to procure and distribute equipment and supplies to healthcare facilities.
Polowczyk, who spoke before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, added that the administration hopes to get to 700 million syringes and needles into next year.
The Trump administration is devoting hundreds of millions of dollars to drug manufacturers pursuing vaccine candidates for COVID-19. The administration is also devoting funding to manufacture vaccine doses even before a drug is approved so officials can quickly distribute it.
Top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, M.D., said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the chances for a vaccine to be approved by the end of the year.
But officials also took heat from lawmakers on the stockpile’s role in the beginning of the pandemic back in March. Providers and states have had to scramble to get personal protective equipment, ventilators and other supplies to prepare for a surge of COVID-19 cases, and there have been complaints about slow distribution of the national stockpile's supplies.
“There is a perception that at the very beginnings of this crisis that the federal government said to states ‘OK, governors you’ve got to get your own stuff,’” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah. “I talked to more than one governor who said they were scrambling on their own to try and find protective equipment and try and find testing equipment and they were competing with each other.”
Romney asked officials about whether the administration can create a model to spell out which tasks need to be done federally and which can be done at the state level in terms of supply procurement.
Admiral Brett Giroir, M.D., the assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services who has taken the lead on increasing COVID-19 testing, admitted that during the early parts of the pandemic from mid-March to mid-April “we had absolute shortages.”
“We were in a posture of getting requests through the FEMA system … and trying to adjudicate those requests as much as possible,” he added. “It was down to how many new cases there were, what the hospitals were in allocating those supplies. where the hospitals were in allocating those limited supplies.”
But since mid-April, the federal government has done a better job of being able to provide states what they want upfront, Giroir said.
“I think we have a working framework,” he said. “It was built while we were flying the airplane, but I think now is a good time to look back and make sure that is precisely right in what we need.”