Pharmacist Evelyn Kim, wears a mask and gloves at the CVS pharmacy at Target in the Tenleytown area of Washington, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. As they remain open she is wearing a mask and gloves to combat the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Across the country, Americans have found store shelves empty of staple goods like flour, sugar, pasta, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies. And, while those shortages may cause frustration in the short-term, they are minor difficulties compared to what would have occurred if those same Americans weren’t able to obtain the prescription medications that they depend on to survive.
To this point in the crisis, Americans have had reliable access to the prescription drugs that they depend upon. Americans have. Pharmaceuticals were identified by the media as one of the sectors that would be most impacted as the virus began to spread through China three months ago, but herculean efforts by every link in the supply chain have ensured that Americans have access to their prescription medicines.
New challenges emerge daily as the crisis evolves and spreads throughout the globe, but the pharmaceutical supply chain is proving durable and able to respond to the challenges endemic to a crisis like this. Yet, while the pharmaceutical supply chain has been able to overcome the hurdles caused by a global pandemic and keep pharmacy shelves stocked, governmental intervention could create an insurmountable obstacle, crippling America’s ability to treat and, ultimately, vaccinate our citizens.
A draft of a “Buy American” Executive Order is circulating in government circles and, if signed, it could have a devastating effect on America’s ability to respond to, and recover from, the COVID-19 crisis. The Executive Order would place restrictions on U.S. government agencies’ ability to purchase medical supplies made overseas, placing additional and unnecessary strain on a supply chain that is already under pressure.
It is true that Americans would be better off if the United States had the ability to produce the pharmaceuticals that we require, without importing from other countries, especially in a time of crisis. It is equally true that, in a time of crisis, alienating overseas manufacturing partners whose cooperation we need to defeat COVID-19 will make us worse off.
Much of the pharmaceutical-related news today is naturally focused on drugs that may help the sick recover from COVID-19 like chloroquine. However, there were more than 4 billion prescriptions filled in the United States last year for non-COVID-19 conditions, and Americans still need those everyday prescription medications during this crisis.
While there are very good arguments that the United States was irresponsible by allowing so much of its capacity to manufacture pharmaceuticals to migrate to China and other less-than-friendly countries around the world, that is the reality that we must work with to overcome this pandemic.
Today, every country around the globe is mustering its resources to manufacture protective equipment and ventilators, to study the most effective modes of treatment for those who have and will become ill from COVID-19, and, eventually, to discover and produce the vaccine that will finally end this threat. Tomorrow, we can address the mistakes of the past and plan for the future.
Policies that incentivize medical supply and pharmaceutical manufacturing in the United States may well be a key part of that planning. But, in the here-and-now, we must avoid kneejerk policies that could do more harm than good, and instead work closely with foreign partners to address the crises of the day and maintain our ability to provide necessary medicines for non-COVID-19-related illnesses.
Signing a Buy America Executive Order would be counterproductive at best and, at worst, prolong the pandemic and economic recovery. The draft Executive Order should stay a draft for the foreseeable future.
Jesse Grady has worked with the RNC, Trump Campaign, Texas GOP, and the NC GOP. He now lives in Baltimore and studies law at the University of Maryland.