Health Care

Experts Warn Lawmakers of Overreliance on Chinese Medical Supplies and Drugs

Pharmacist Thomas Jensen looks over a prescription drug at the Rock Canyon pharmacy in Provo, Utah, May 9, 2019. (George Frey/Reuters)

Panelists warned Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) during a Senate hearing on “The Coronavirus and America’s Small Business Supply Chain” that the U.S. pharmaceutical industry has “thousands” of drugs that are sourced in China.

“I think it’s been clear for a while now that we are far too reliant on China for our domestic production, especially for essential products that we rely on, and of course our medical supply chain is at the very top of that list,” Hawley, who introduced legislation last month to reduce supply-chain reliance on China for the manufacture of certain prescription drugs and other medical supplies, opened.

He then asked Hastings Center senior adviser Rosemary Gibson about the extent of American drugs’ reliance on Chinese production.

“Thousands. Thousands of our generic drugs and even some of the brand name products and perhaps even new therapies for coronavirus may depend on the chemicals that are sourced primarily in China,” she replied. Gibson also said she spoke to “men and women in pharmaceutical engineering and pharmaceutical chemistry,” who told her that “90 percent of the chemicals” used for generic America drugs come from China.

Tim Morrison, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, added that the U.S.’s end to domestic penicillin production in 2004 stemmed from a decision “essentially to destroy the free market and create incentives to offshore production in China.”

“Originally this seemed like a good thing. We’ll save prices. We’ll move value, or value you can move, we’ll continue to do the innovation, but China is scooping that up as well,” Morrison said. “And so, without any decision by any government authority this happened and now we are going to deal with the consequences. And of course, an antibiotic isn’t instrumental to treat a virus, but the respiratory infection, it is.”

Chinese state-media organ Global Times cited an analyst Wednesday who warned that Beijing could ban the export of face masks and other medical gear to the U.S. over the Trump administration’s hawkish stance on Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

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