March 14, 2024

ICYMI: Ricketts, Blumenthal in Real Clear Health: Relying on China for Medical Device Production “A Mistake We Can’t Afford to Make”

Real Clear Health: Bolstering Medical Device Production at Home

By Pete Ricketts & Richard Blumenthal

March 12, 2024


The COVID-19 pandemic forced our entire health care system into overdrive. Physicians, nurses, and hospital staff worked around the clock, risking their health and safety to care for others, while U.S. businesses and manufacturers ramped up production of everything from respirators to hand sanitizer. The pandemic revealed that our emergency response depends largely on those medical tools—and the only way to guarantee our access to critical supplies is to produce them here at home.

But our domestic production is slipping.

From IV infusions and anesthesia to cancer treatments and surgery, two-thirds of medical procedures require needles and syringes, totaling 10 million a day. In 2020 and 2021, syringe and needle manufacturing sites in Holdrege, Nebraska and Canaan, Connecticut surged production, delivering 2 billion injection devices to hospitals in the U.S. and to more than 40 countries worldwide.

Despite intense demand from our health care system, four of the six manufacturing sites for needles and syringes in the United States closed last year, leaving just one in Nebraska and one in Connecticut.

Why? In 2018, 15 percent of needles and syringes were imported. Today, that number is 40 percent. That change has resulted in a worrying dependence on low quality products shipped from overseas. It’s also reduced the manufacturing infrastructure required to sustain business in the United States.

As we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, relying on health care products produced outside the United States carries significant risks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently investigating reports of faulty syringes made in China. Leaking or broken syringes have serious medical consequences, such as delivering the wrong dose of a medication—a potentially fatal mistake. 

Unfortunately, problems with imported medical supplies aren’t rare. It is harder for U.S. regulators, like the FDA, to inspect foreign manufacturers. That means it’s impossible to hold these imported products to the same quality and safety standards as domestic products. In fact, the last time the agency inspected a Chinese hypodermic device manufacturing facility was in 2018. The FDA recently issued an advisory informing consumers of these potential syringe failures. While this is a good first step, we must do more to protect Americans’ health.

In July, we asked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to increase support for domestic manufacturing and ensure that essential medical products can be produced in the U.S. We suggested several actions to accomplish this goal.

Without a resilient domestic supply chain for medical supplies, we risk our nation’s crisis response, and the health of our citizens. The most effective way to ensure the quality of these products is to manufacture them in the U.S. If we don’t change course soon, we risk losing the last of our syringe manufacturing facilities, which would make the United States largely reliant on China—a mistake we can’t afford to make.

Read the full op-ed HERE.