Saline Shortage Feared With Hurricane Season Threatening Production
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Three years ago, when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, itcrippledBaxter International Inc.’s ability to manufacture saline solution, anessential hospital supply. With another hurricane season threatening the island, Baxter says it will do better if disaster strikes again, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
As the Atlantic hurricane season gets under way, the looming confluence of bad weather and a deadly global pandemic has the medical world increasingly on edge. Hospitals rely heavily on saline solution-filled pouches to deliver medications such as antibiotics and painkillers, as well as to hydrate patients. Baxter, which dominates the saline market, makes most of those clear bags in Puerto Rico, drawn there by tax incentives, as are dozens of other drugmakers.
This year, as the pandemic rages in the U.S. and strains hospitals, forecasters expect hurricane season to be much more active than normal. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationpredicts as many as six major hurricanes, double the number in an average year.
Lessons learned from Maria have helped Baxter build “a more resilient supply chain,” says Lauren Russ, a spokeswoman. The company has invested $1 billion in its manufacturing network and has won clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make saline in other countries should the need arise, Russ says. After Hurricane Maria, the FDA allowed Baxter to import saline made in the company’s facilities in Australia, Canada, Ireland, and Mexico. In addition, Baxter now immediately ships newly produced saline bags from Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland rather than holding supplies there. “With those two strategies in place, we’re feeling comfortable,” says Sam Calabrese, chief pharmacy officer at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the largest hospitals in the country.
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