As the first COVID-19 vaccines have started rolling out in the US, many doctors and nurses that will first receive the vaccine said that declaring victory against the pandemic is still premature, especially with the alarming shortage of personal protective equipment (PPEs) in the hospitals in the US.
The New York Times reported that the lack or shortage of the PPEs have led frontline medical health workers to ration their use of disposable gowns, gloves, N95 masks that protect them from catching the virus.
Even at the beginning, there have been shortages of PPEs reported, and during the months of the summer season. According to NPR, demand for respirator masks, gloves, gowns, thermometers, and other PPEs have remained high, as well as their prices.
Shortage of PPEs in the hospitals
Health care workers in St. Mary's Medical Center who treat patients with COVID-19 are required to reuse their tight-fitting respirator masks up to six times before disposing of them, according to The New York Times. But the nurses said that the masks could sag just after reusing them twice, which leaves gaps ad leaves them feeling less protected while working.
The report said that the shortage of PPEs results from increasing demands and low supply, which has resulted in hospitals competing for limited supplies. Not to mention that the high prices of these PPEs have seemed to become a norm that desperate institutions have been duped into buying fake products.
Furthermore, many also think that the Trump administration has not fully taken advantage of the Defense Production Act, a law during the Korean War-era that allows federal agencies to coordinate the distribution of scarce goods and prioritize the government's orders. The law also grants help to companies in ramping up production.
Experts said that even with the current vaccines, it does not guarantee that vaccinated people will not transmit the virus to others. That is why PPEs remain essential to all. Registered nurse Kathy Haff, who works at Community First Medical Center, said that the shortage of PPEs has led to her colleagues' deaths this past spring and summer.
Shortage of PPEs Endangers Healthcare Workers Around the World
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the severe and mounting disruption of the supply chain of the PPEs is putting the lives of people at risk from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. PPEs are badly needed these days, especially by healthcare workers and their patients, to protect themselves and avoid infecting others.
"Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real. Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions, and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding. We can't stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first," said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
WHO estimates that around 89 million medical masks are needed each month for COVID-19 response. While 76 million disposable gloves are needed, and around 1.3 million goggles per month will be needed.
To meet high demands, WHO encourages the governments and manufacturers to ramp up production of PPEs, and ease restrictions on the export and distribution of the PPEs and other medical supplies.
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