The coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the United States and the world.
This week, the federal government released modeling data that forecasts between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the U.S. over the next few months. Drs. Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci emphasized that these projections could be higher or lower, largely dependent upon the willingness of the population to pay heed to social distancing guidelines.
We all hope and pray that these projections don’t become true; but we are also mindful that the Spanish Flu pandemic of 100 years ago, killed over 600,000 Americans when our population was only one-third as large as it is today.
The pandemic has taken hold of both our health and our economy, but we cannot allow it to take hold of our spirit. Few are now questioning the advice to stay home and to maintain social distancing. While we all want to see a return to normalcy, this won’t happen soon until we’re able to control the spread of the virus.
Amid this disaster, some promising signs are coming into view.
Pharmaceutical companies and diagnostic laboratories are developing quick, reliable COVID-19 tests. Instead of waiting 2-4 days for test results, Abbot Labs has developed a screening kit which delivers results in 15 minutes. Regeneron, a New York company, is providing New York State with 500,000 virus tests free of charge. Local companies - and many others across the nation – are stepping up to manufacture N-95 masks, gloves and other personal protection garments for healthcare workers. At least 11 companies nationwide are embarked upon emergency manufacturing of ventilators.
Trials are underway, including a major study here in New York State, to determine the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, a commonly used malaria drug as a therapeutic treatment for COVID-19.
In addition, vaccine development is quickly moving ahead, led by public and private research labs and by major pharmaceutical companies. Federal regulatory authorities at the CDC and FDA are moving with uncommon speed to authorize clinical trials.
Our experience with the virus will also bring change. More employers will increasingly move to work from home. Colleges will move to distance learning and parents – rebelling at tuition costs – will likely insist. We likely won’t be shaking hands as frequently. And we have to ensure domestic production of needed medical supplies.
One change is long overdue: ending our dangerous dependence on China for prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
As documented by Rosemary Gibson, a scholar at the Hastings Center, China has positioned itself to be the drug producer for the entire world. Virtually all generic antibiotics prescribed in the U.S. come from China. No U.S. company currently produces penicillin and China has effectively created a state-run cartel that produces at below market prices, driving foreign competition out of business.
The U.S. no longer produces generic antibiotics for a whole host of conditions. The drug for your child’s ear infection or strep throat? According to Gibson, that medication comes from China, as do antibiotics to combat pneumonia, urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases and a whole host of drug components.
Dependence on China also creates a national security issue for our nation. China is both a military and economic threat to the U.S. and its neighbors in Southeast Asia. It seeks to expand its influence around the world, often to the detriment of the United States. We shouldn’t allow critical pharmaceutical supplies to be dependent on Chinese cartels controlled by that government. The sooner we secure reliable domestic and friendly foreign nation supplies of critical drugs, the better.
I have no doubt that we will conquer the coronavirus and begin again to restore a semblance of normalcy to our economy and healthcare system. We cannot thank our healthcare workers enough and all those who’ve stepped forward to aid others in our time of national crisis. Let’s hope that we remember the lessons learned from this experience and better protect our citizens from these threats in the future.;
Former Representative John Faso of Kinderhook represented New York's 19th House district in the 115th Congress.
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