Wearing a face mask to reduce the chance of transmission of the novel coronavirus, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) arrives at the U.S. Capitol for a vote May 18, 2020 in Washington, DC.
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The coronavirus pandemic has put the spotlight on the United States’ reliance on foreign countries for key pharmaceutical products.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order last month that directs the FDA to create a list of essential medicines and calls on the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to buy critical pharmaceuticals and material inputs from domestic suppliers.
“We cannot rely on China and other nations across the globe that could one day deny us products in a time of need,” President Trump said on August 6, in a speech at a Whirlpool factory in Clyde Ohio.
But Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Tina Smith are calling on Trump to go further to address the issue.
“We have introduced legislation, the U.S. Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Defense and Enhancement Act that requires comprehensive action to revamp domestic manufacturing of critical drugs and their key starting materials and address vulnerabilities in our nation’s supply chain,” the senators wrote in a letter sent to the president on Wednesday.
“We hope you will work together with Congress in a bipartisan way to pass this legislation and eliminate this public health and national security gap,” they wrote.
The senators want his support for the legislation that would increase funding for agencies to buy domestically produced drugs, promote drug development in the U.S. and require drug makers to annually report to the FDA information about their supply chains.
“Absent these meaningful actions, your Executive Order will not help address this legitimate national security and public health problem,” they wrote.
The U.S. imports more than seventy percent of the active pharmaceutical ingredients, the raw chemicals used to make drugs, according to the FDA, with the EU, India, China the largest suppliers. Production globally has shifted over the decades to countries that have more beneficial tax incentives, less restrictive environmental laws, and/or cheaper costs of labor.
The president and lawmakers are in agreement that the overreliance on foreign components poses serious risk to public health and national security.
The president’s executive order also calls on the Environmental Protection Agency to streamline regulations, including accelerating siting and permitting approvals for domestic manufacturing.
Wary of the administration’s push to deregulate, Senators Warren and Smith question the move “In developing this Executive Order, did the Administration consider the potential harms to the health and well being of the American people that could stem from waiving or expediting existing environmental regulations,” the Senators write.
The White House declined to comment.