Americans are learning, to their dismay, that we are dependent on China to produce crucial ingredients—so-called active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs)—for the manufacturing of our pharmaceuticals, many of them, literally, live-saving. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R–Tenn.) is sponsoring a bi-partisan bill to address this situation. Talk about a timely initiative!
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) quickly walks past reporters as she arrives for the weekly Senate … [+]
The past few weeks of self-quarantining, misinformation and confusion have tried the patience of the American people. Every day, I field questions about what the U.S. Senate is doing to combat the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as well as what steps families should take to protect themselves.
Even before the news of closed restaurants and canceled festivals hit the timeline, Americans were alert to the possibility—perhaps for the first time in their lives—of want. Articles expressing doubt over the country’s healthcare system’s capacity to treat an influx of COVID-19-afflicted patients prompted us to ask, what if?
What if my local hospital runs out of beds? What if I can’t get my medicines? What if I catch the virus at a clinic?
Our concerns are valid. American healthcare is plagued by vulnerabilities built into its supply chains and delivery systems that transcend illnesses and administrations.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed those vulnerabilities, but it isn’t the root cause of them. From rare earth minerals to electronics to inexpensive consumer goods, China’s stranglehold on the global economy has been well documented; however, unbeknownst to most, China’s influence extends beyond the macroeconomic and into the average American’s medicine cabinet.
Last week Chinese media outlets published comments from the leadership in Beijing that can and should be taken as a credible threat to our pharmaceutical supply chain.
Currently, only 28% of the facilities producing active pharmaceutical ingredients, or “APIs,” are in the U.S., which means that American consumers rely heavily on foreign-sourced drugs to stay healthy. Although we can’t yet quantify our dependence on Chinese APIs, we do know that Beijing’s theoretical discussions of export controls could compound into shortages if it makes good on it threats.
Without intervention, the FDA expects that the pharmaceutical industry will continue to rely on Chinese companies to produce APIs. If Congress doesn’t act, what has become corporate America’s standard operating procedure will continue to put lives at risk.
Together with Senator Bob Menendez (D–NJ), I have introduced the Securing America’s Medicine Cabinet, or “SAM-C” Act. It is a bipartisan effort to address our supply-chain vulnerability by encouraging drug manufacturers to bring API creation back to the U.S.
Provisions in SAM-C expand upon the Food & Drug Administration’s Emerging Technology Program to prioritize issues related to national security and critical drug shortages and to bring pharmaceutical manufacturing jobs to the U.S. In addition, the bill authorizes $100 million to develop “centers of excellence” in partnership with institutes of learning and the private sector to spur innovation in advanced-pharmaceutical manufacturing.
If this country’s recent reaction to potential shortages is any indication, the American people are ready to demand a change in our relationship with China—and with any other country that attempts to leverage the health and welfare of human beings against responsible policymaking.
The danger is imminent. On February 27 the FDA revealed that healthcare providers are already experiencing a shortage of one drug used to treat COVID-19.
Fortunately, we have the ability to redirect our pharmaceutical supply chain back to the safety of domestic laboratories, and for the sake of every American we must do so without delay. If this threat outlasts the coronavirus pandemic, it will do so because we allowed it to.
—Senator Marsha Blackburn
Marsha Blackburn is the first woman to represent Tennessee in the U.S. Senate. Before election to the Senate, she represented Tennessee’s 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, where she became a leader in the fight for a small, efficient federal government accountable to its citizens. She recognizes her duty to safeguard faith, family, freedom, hope and opportunity for all Americans, and has prioritized legislation supporting economic prosperity, freedom of religion and the sanctity of life. Her leadership philosophy is based on her experiences in the private sector as a small-businesswoman and author, and as a mother and grandmother.