Experts Flagged Supply Shortages In National Stockpile For Years

Experts have been warning the government for years about a lack of ventilators, masks and other supplies in the Strategic National Stockpile.

Experts Flagged Supply Shortages In National Stockpile For Years
Maryland Air National Guard photo / Master Sgt. Christopher Schepers

Some of the lack of medical equipment to fight the coronavirus outbreak is a result of not enough supplies in the federal government's Strategic National Stockpile.

Compiled in secret warehouses in 1999, the stockpile stores medication, vaccines, antidotes and personal protective equipment for use in a national health emergency like the current pandemic.

But governors requesting supplies say they're getting a fraction of what they need, especially when it comes to ventilators, assisted breathing devices the government has struggled for years to acquire.

And some of what's in the stockpile has been stored so long it expired.

Issues with the government's reserves of live-saving health tools are not a surprise to experts who have warned about trouble with the stockpile for years.

"I mean, we warned again and again and again," said Ellen Carlin at the Georgetown University Center for Global Health Science and Security.

Carlin was on a 2016 advisory panel for the CDC on how to improve the stockpile.

Panelists warned "the current model is not sustainable," there was a "lack of clear goals and objectives for response" and "the resources that American people are willing to commit ... are not sufficient to meet all of the expectations."

"It's really unconscionable to me that Congress and a series of successive presidential administrations never really put the money in to giving us the resources, the infrastructure that we need to deal with what we're seeing today," Carlin said.

A look at congressional spending for the stockpile shows a peak after 9/11, before funding dropped and stayed relatively flat for years.

The biggest use of the stockpile was for swine flu 11 years ago, but the original focus was on preparing for a bioterror attack, not a pandemic.

"The irony is if this had been a smallpox or anthrax emergency, we would've been much better prepared," Carlin said.

A U.S. Health and Human Services spokesperson said the stockpile is meant to supplement state and local supplies.

"HHS has been transparent that more supplies are needed, hence the request to congress for additional funding," the statement said.

Congress answered, approving $16 billion more for the stockpile, a massive injection of cash.

FEMA says supplies to respond to coronavirus are flowing to all 50 states, rationed based on population and need.