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Demand far outstrips the supply of N95 respirators

Due to global shortages, 3M Co has ramped up its production of N95 respirators, doubling its normal output. The company is currently manufacturing 100 million N95 respirators per month worldwide, with 35 million of these being produced in the US. Furthermore, 3M Chief Executive Officer Mike Roman has stated that the company aims to increase its US production of N95 respirators even further, to reach 50 million per month by June 2020.

Other manufacturers of N95 respirators such as Honeywell International Inc, Owens & Minor Inc, and Prestige Ameritech are also attempting to increase their manufacturing capacity as they struggle to keep up with the new, unprecedented demand. GlobalData estimates that sales of N95 respirators in US healthcare facilities more than doubled between December 2019 and January 2020, to surpass 50 million. While 3M continues to dominate this market, the strongest sales growth was observed for smaller companies such as Alpha ProTech Inc and Moldex-Metric, Inc.

Even with all of the increased production, there are still not enough N95 respirators being produced to accommodate all of the healthcare workers and medical staff who need them worldwide, let alone to satisfy consumer demand within the general population. This has led to several issues, including hospitals having to ration N95 respirators and discuss scenarios where healthcare works may need to deny emergency treatment for patients with Covid-19 if the necessary personal protective equipment is not available.

News reports of medical workers around the world catching the virus, some of whom have since passed away, demonstrate the risks being taken by those battling this disease. Shortages of personal protective equipment have caused some healthcare workers to resort to manufacturing their own out of items such as trash bags, while others are considering refusing to work if they do not receive the supplies needed to protect themselves.

In addition to the demand for N95 respirators far outstripping current manufacturing capabilities, ongoing supply chain issues are also contributing to shortages. In an interview with news network Fox News on 2 April, the head of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management Jared Moskowitz claimed that Florida cannot obtain the N95 respirators it needs because 3M has lost control of their distributor system. Moskowitz claimed that authorized distributors of N95 masks in the US are prioritizing foreign countries who offer to pay in cash over the US and that 3M failed to issue guidance to prevent this behaviour. The situation culminated in US President Trump invoking the Defense Production Act on 2 April in an attempt to obtain more N95 respirators produced by 3M. Following this, 3M and the US administration agreed on a deal to import 166,500,000 respirators from the company’s overseas facilities, primarily in China, within the next few months.

Product counterfeiting, faulty stock, and price gouging are also ongoing issues. A hospital in New Jersey recently reported that it had been sold 1,000 N95 respirators that did not pass clinician tests upon arrival, and for which they could not verify the NIOSH certification. Similarly, the Netherlands recalled approximately 600,000 KN95 respirators imported from China last week because they were defective and did not meet the required quality standards.

Altogether, the massive demand for N95 respirators is driving exceptional growth in this medical device market. This demand is unlikely to ease any time soon, especially since the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its recommendations advising the general public to use cloth face coverings in order to help stop the spread of Covid-19.

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