A tornado on Wednesday caused extensive damage to a Pfizer drug manufacturing site in Rocky Mount, NC, threatening supplies critical to hospitals across the country.
The company estimates that one-quarter of the injectable drugs supplied to US hospitals were made on the Rocky Mount property, including drugs used during surgery and other procedures to block pain, keep patients sedated and help fight infection.
Although the company has not yet disclosed the extent of the storm’s impact, video footage of the site and interviews with the Nash County Sheriff and people with knowledge of the damage indicate that the tornado caused the worst damage to the company’s warehouse.
On Thursday, Pfizer declined to comment on the affected drugs or the proportion of its supply destroyed in the tornado, which could be substantial because many of these drugs require careful production and handling to ensure sterility.
It was also unclear how deep the destruction would exacerbate the existing national drug shortage, which has reached 10 year high in recent months. Hospitals are on high alert because low-cost generic products manufactured on-site, such as the sedative propofol, are already short of most on the market.
“From a health care practitioner’s perspective, I’m just holding my breath,” said Michael Ganio, MD, a senior director of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
The tornado touched down in a 16-mile strip of the Rocky Mount area, about 50 miles east of Raleigh, at about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. According to a summary, it snapped trees at the base and toppled homes up to 20 yards from their foundations. national weather service, The tornado reached speeds of up to 150 mph before tearing off large pieces of the Pfizer building’s metal roof and overturning big-rig trucks in the parking lot. Sixteen people were injured, but no deaths were reported.
Many said that the tornado caused the most damage to the company’s warehouse; The impact on the manufacturing plant — and its ability to continue producing the drugs — is not yet clear, according to Mittal Sutaria, senior vice president of pharmacy contracts at Viziant, which provides contracts for drugs to hospitals.
He said teams from Pfizer and the Food and Drug Administration were on the scene to assess the damage.
Dr. Sutaria, who said Vigilant had been in contact with Pfizer, said the Rocky Mount site makes anesthesia products including propofol, which is used to sedate patients during surgery, as well as fentanyl and morphine, which are used in IVs for pain management. It also makes vancomycin, an antibiotic given to fight serious infections, and muscle relaxants including succinylcholine, which is also used in surgery.
Keith Stone, sheriff of Nash County, where Rocky Mount is located, told local news reporters Much of the Pfizer building collapsed on Wednesday, the roof collapsed and more than 50,000 pallets of the drug were destroyed.
Sheriff Stone said in an interview Thursday that about 100 vehicles were also damaged, including forklift trucks, which were scattered across nearby railroad tracks. “It’s amazing how something can come on so quickly and do so much damage and be over so quickly,” he said.
Pfizer spokesman Steve Dennehy said Thursday that the company’s Rocky Mount team is “working very hard to assess and address the situation,” but did not provide details. The company said its employees survived the tornado without serious injuries.
Pfizer is expected to report its findings to the Food and Drug Administration, which monitors the shortage.
“We are closely monitoring the situation as it develops and are working with the company to understand the extent of the damage and any potential impact on the country’s drug supply,” said agency spokesman Chanapa Tantibanchai.
The Rocky Mount facility, established in 1968, employs 4,500 people and has 24 filling lines and 22 packing lines. Although not as large as Pfizer’s manufacturing complex in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the North Carolina site is spread over 1.4 million square feet of manufacturing space. Medicines made on site are also shipped to Japan, Canada, Brazil and other countries.
The specific products made at Pfizer plants — and their share of the market — are generally not public information. However, the company sells dozens of injectable itemsThat includes IV antibiotics, anti-seizure drugs used in brain surgery, and even an antidote for coral snake venom.
Many Pfizer drugs were already in short supply before the tornado: according to the company’s listing, about 130 products marketed to hospitals were listed as “out” and about 100 others were in “limited supply”. of 660 products,
Pfizer’s other manufacturing is plants In Kansas, New York, Massachusetts and Wisconsin where the company could possibly move some production to ease any shortages resulting from the Rocky Mount destruction.
Soumi Saha, senior vice president at Premier, a company that provides contract services for drugs to hospitals, said Pfizer had a strong track record for manufacturing in some redundancy, so that products could be manufactured at more than one site.
If the damage caused by the storm is limited to the warehouse and does not affect production schedules at manufacturing plants, it could reduce the potential shortfall, he said.
Dr. Ganio recalled shortages of other medicines caused by disasters in production areas.
Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, leaving hospitals scrambling for IV bags. Another incident happened last year when a region of China, which was badly hit by Covid, defaulted in the production of contrast dye for CT scans and other medical images. And in recent months, doctors have warned that survival rates for some cancer patients are at risk after the FDA halted production at a manufacturing plant in India after the FDA cited major quality flaws.
Given the worrisome shortage, which affects the lives of so many people — and which has resulted in some drug hoarding and barter among advocates who trade and find rare drugs for the most desperate — policy experts, lawmakers and federal officials have been discussing solutions in recent weeks.
On Thursday, Senate lawmakers passed a pandemic preparedness bill from a key health committee. It contained provisions intended to prevent shortages and to increase reports by drug manufacturers to alert the FDA to conditions that could lead to shortages so that the agency could help address them.
The bill would also require a report from the FDA within 90 days after the law is passed on the agency’s ability to deal with the shortfall and whether it needs more help from lawmakers.
Still, the natural occurrence of tornadoes served as a stark reminder of the need to better manage shortages.
“This reinforces the need for a true focus on resilience and preparedness in our supply chain, not only for the next pandemic, but also for any unforeseen circumstances that could cause shocks in our supply chain,” Dr. Saha said.