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After tornado damages Pfizer plant, hospitals brace for shortages

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Analysts warned of the potential for some shortages until the company can move production elsewhere. The North Carolina plant produces a quarter of the company’s sterile injectables used in hospitals.

With a large Pfizer plant in North Carolina suffering extensive damage after being struck by a tornado, hospital officials are waiting to see the extent and duration of shortages.

After a tornado damaged a Pfizer plant in North Carolina, the drug company says it's still assessing the impact on production. The plant is a key supplier of sterile injectables. (Photo: Pfizer)

After a tornado damaged a Pfizer plant in North Carolina, the drug company says it's still assessing the impact on production. The plant is a key supplier of sterile injectables. (Photo: Pfizer)

Supply chain experts warned of the potential for at least some shortages, and hospitals have been dealing with supply chain interruptions repeatedly since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Erin Fox, senior pharmacy director at University of Utah Health, told CBS News that the damage "will likely lead to long-term shortages while Pfizer works to either move production to other sites or rebuilds."

The tornado struck near Pfizer’s plant in Rocky Mount, N.C. Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. No serious injuries were reported, but the facility sustained heavy damage.

Pfizer relies on the facility as a key source for sterile injectables. The plant produces nearly a quarter of Pfizer’s sterile injectables used in U.S. hospitals, the drug company said on its website.

The plant produces a host of other products, including “anesthesia, analgesia, therapeutics, anti-infectives and neuromuscular blockers,” Pfizer said. The company said the Rocky Mount plant is one of the biggest sterile injectable producers in the world, with 1.4 million square feet of manufacturing space. Pfizer said the facility ships more than 200 million units annually.

“We are assessing the situation to determine the impact on production,” Pfizer said on Twitter. “Our thoughts are with our colleagues, our patients, and the community as we rebuild from this weather incident.”

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists said it was tracking about 300 drug shortages before the tornado, and the storm damage is “likely to worsen the shortages.”

“Many of the most severe and persistent shortages are among sterile injectables like those manufactured at the storm-damaged Pfizer plant,” the ASHP said on its website.

Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone told WRAL-TV that he heard reports that 50,000 pallets of medicine were destroyed. The National Weather Service said the EF-3 tornado produced peak winds of 150 miles per hour.

Robert Califf, commissioner of the Food & Drug Administration, said he has been in touch with Pfizer leadership to learn the extent of the damage and the impact on drug supplies.

“We’re following the situation closely,” Califf said on Twitter Thursday afternoon.

The tornado damage to the Pfizer plant looms as the latest supply chain disruption for hospitals, and health systems wrestled with shortages throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the spring, hospitals and cancer facilities said they’ve been hampered by a shortage of some cancer drugs. In some cases, facilities have said they’ve had to ration supplies and even delay treatments.

Last year, hospitals and providers faced a shortage of contrast dye used in imaging due to COVID lockdowns in China.

The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists has issued several recommendations to reduce supply chain interruptions. The organization calls for diversifying the manufacturing base and developing more transparency in production.

The group has also called on Congress to impose more meaningful penalties for companies that don't develop risk management plans or report manufacturing and supply chain data as required.

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