Has the pandemic surfaced vulnerabilities in medical oxygen supply and distribution in the US?

Thursday, September 2, 2021
By Stevie Rosignol-Cortez

The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in early 2021 noted continuing localized challenges in securing enough oxygen to treat seriously ill COVID-19 patients, citing strains during 2020 outbreaks in New York, southern California and elsewhere. “If enough areas are severely affected concurrently, a national crisis could ensue,” Hopkins warned.

COVID-19 treatments using high flow oxygen therapy use five to ten times more oxygen than a mechanical ventilator. With capacity limits on piped supplies, hospitals turn to portable oxygen, in turn causing oxygen cylinder shortages.

The summer surge of hospitalizations in southern states has stressed supplies in that region. On Aug. 28, a hospital-supply group told Bloomberg News that the "worst-hit" hospitals in the Southeast have only 12 to 24 hours supply on hand.

Even before the pandemic, many lower-income countries faced much more “severe” shortages, McKinsey & Co. reports.

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