Tornado damage to Pfizer plant will probably create long-term shortages of some drugs hospitals need

July 20, 2023   -The fallout from a Pfizer factory being damaged by a tornado could put even more pressure on already-strained drug supplies at U.S. hospitals, experts say.

Wednesday’s tornado touched down near Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and ripped up the roof of a Pfizer factory that makes nearly 25% of Pfizer’s sterile injectable medicines used in U.S. hospitals, according to the drugmaker.

Pfizer said all employees were safely evacuated and accounted for, and no serious injuries were reported. The drugmaker is still assessing the damage.

Here’s a closer look at the possible effects.

WHAT ARE STERILE INJECTABLES?

The North Carolina plant produces drugs that are injected or through an IV.

The plant makes drugs for anesthesia, medicines that treat infections and drugs needed for surgeries. The latter are used in surgeries or intensive care units for patients who are placed on ventilators, said Mike Ganio, who studies drug shortages at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

The Pfizer site does not make or store the company’s COVID-19 vaccine or treatments Comirnaty and Paxlovid.

HOW BIG IS THE SITE?

Pfizer bought the eastern North Carolina factory in 2015 as part of its acquisition of the drugmaker Hospira.

There is more than 1.4 million square feet of manufacturing space, or the equivalent of more than 24 football fields, and 22 packaging lines.

Pfizer says well over 2,000 people work there.

HOW WILL THIS AFFECT HOSPITAL DRUG SUPPLIES?

It will likely lead to some long-term shortages while Pfizer shifts production to other locations or rebuilds, said Erin Fox, senior pharmacy director at the University of Utah Health.

“If Pfizer falls out, it makes it that much harder for other companies to make up the difference,” Fox said.

The specifics of which drugs might be involved in a shortage and how long that shortage will go aren’t clear.

“Anyone who is aware of this event is basically holding their collective breath at this point, hoping for the best and waiting for news,” Ganio said.

He noted that drugmakers tend to ship finished products quickly from manufacturing sites, which may limit how much inventory was damaged by the twister.

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