In recent days, President Donald Trump has repeatedly defended his administration against the suggestion that the government is failing to secure enough ventilators, medical devices that help Covid-19 patients breathe and can save the lives of those suffering serious respiratory distress.
“We have tremendous numbers of ventilators, but there’s never been an instance like this where no matter what you have, it’s not enough,” Trump said on March 18. “It sounds like a lot, but this is a very unforeseen thing. Nobody ever thought of these numbers.” A day later, he doubled down, noting that “nobody in their wildest dreams would have ever thought that we’d need tens of thousands of ventilators.”
Except, of course, somebody did think that. A lot of somebodies, actually, and for a very long time. Almost every federal agency you can imagine has, in fact, warned about shortages — and some have offered specific and sobering estimates of need — for the better part of two decades.
Almost 15 years ago, for example, the Department of Health and Human Services published a 400-page Pandemic Influenza Plan that was nothing if not explicit. Analyzing models based on flu pandemics in 1957 and 1968, which suggested that there could be more than 900,000 hospitalizations under a similar scenario, HHS determined that “demand for inpatient and intensive-care unit (ICU) beds and assisted ventilation services could increase by more than 25%.” If that happened, the department predicted, “mechanical ventilation” would be needed in as many as 64,875 instances. A more severe pandemic like the flu of 1918-19 could result in ventilator shortages which, in turn, could lead to difficult questions about rationing. How many ventilators might be needed to stave that off? A staggering 742,500.
That startling report was just one of many to sound the alarm. Most were written in the wake of 2003 SARS outbreak or the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. [Continue reading…]