“It is a national disgrace that our health care workers still don’t have the protective equipment they need,” tweeted Joe Biden yesterday.
The national stockpile has about 12 million N95 respirator masks and 30 million surgical masks in supply—approximately 1 percent of what the country would need in a severe pandemic.
Did Biden forget he’s partially to blame for that? Last month we at PJ Media reported that the Obama administration depleted the Strategic National Stockpile of medical supplies during the 2009 H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic. According to Bloomberg, “after the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009, which triggered a nationwide shortage of masks and caused a 2- to 3-year backlog [of] orders for the N95 variety, the stockpile distributed about three-quarters of its inventory and didn’t build back the supply.”
A couple of weeks ago, the Los Angeles Times explained that after the pandemic, “a safety-equipment industry association and a federally sponsored task force both recommended that depleted supplies of N95 respirator masks […] be replenished by the stockpile.” That supply was never replenished.
Not only is the Trump administration resolving the deficiency of respiratory masks for the pandemic, but they are also restocking the Strategic National Stockpile. The Trump administration plans to buy 500 million N95 masks over the next 18 months and will continue to purchase them even if the pandemic dissipates. According to a report from the Washington Post, “Before coronavirus hit, HHS estimated $620 million in stockpile spending for the current fiscal year, compared with $610 million in each of the previous two years. The department also estimated maintaining and replenishing the current inventory would cost $1.1 billion in the 2021 fiscal year.” This would be the most substantial replenishment of the stockpile since 2009.
So, where was Biden from January 2009 to January 2017? He was serving as vice president in an administration that failed to keep the national stockpile sufficiently supplied.
There is really “no answer why the supplies were not replenished because the N95 masks are invaluable tools for preparedness and it was important that they be restocked,” said Charles Johnson, President of International Safety Equipment Association, whose members make supplies for the stockpile.
In the end, Johnson said, the Obama administration chose to use its “limited funds” in other ways and “made the best choices at the time even though his association and others periodically restated their calls to replenish” the N95 masks. That trend continued in the early Trump years as well.
The Strategic National Stockpile was created in 2005 as part of a national plan to respond to pandemics and is maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama’s Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis