Hospital supplies of dozens of drug products could be disrupted after a tornado damaged Pfizer’s sprawling production and storage plant in Rocky Mount, N.C.
The tornado damaged the site’s warehouse, which stores finished medicines, Pfizer said in a Friday letter to customer hospitals. This could mean that 65 products experience “continued or new supply disruptions in the near-term,” the company wrote. The list includes products that contain lidocaine and morphine but not the coronavirus vaccine, which isn’t produced in Rocky Mount.
The risk of new shortages comes as the United States is struggling to obtain sufficient supplies of products such as antibiotics, cardiac medication and chemotherapy drugs. At the end of last year, there were close to 300 medication shortages, or a 30 percent increase from 2021, The Washington Post reported in June.
The nation is already short of some of the products Pfizer said could be affected, according to a list maintained by the American Society of Hospital Pharmacists, which represents 60,000 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians. They include products containing lidocaine, morphine and fentanyl.
Pfizer said it had identified products that could be in short supply after assessing its market share and inventory levels. The Rocky Mount plant, which has 1.4 million square feet of manufacturing space, the firm said, makes almost 8 percent of all sterile injectable drugs used in American hospitals, including anesthesia, therapeutics and neuromuscular blockers. The tornado didn’t cause major damage to the production area.
The Food and Drug Administration does not anticipate “any immediate significant impacts on supply” because of the damage to the plant, Commissioner Robert M. Califf said in a statement last week.
Although Pfizer’s North Carolina facility is the sole provider of several drugs for the U.S. market, “there should be substitutes” or many weeks’ of stock in Pfizer’s other warehouses for a “number of these” products, he said. Other drugmakers also produce some of the products manufactured there, Califf said.
The FDA has also begun looking for additional sources and asking manufacturers to prepare to ramp up production for drugs that are in or risk being in shortage, he said.
Drug shortages in the United States are lasting longer, according to a March report published by the Democratic majority on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. “While the average drug shortage lasts about 1.5 years, more than 15 critical drug products have been in shortage for over a decade,” according to the report.
Low profit margins on generic drugs, such as lidocaine injections, have dissuaded manufacturers from producing more and pushed them to rely on cheaper labor and manufacturing costs overseas, creating a dependency on foreign countries, according to the Senate report.
(c) 2023, The Washington Post · Andrew Jeong