The PPE supply chain 1 year into the pandemic: 16 things to know

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Most hospitals and health systems are seeing greater availability of various types of personal protective equipment compared to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the overall PPE supply chain is still fragile, according to data from Premier.

Premier, a group purchasing organization that supplies about 4,100 hospitals and health systems in the U.S., conducted an analysis in March on the long-term effects the pandemic will have on the healthcare supply chain. Released April 1, the analysis focuses on the top PPE categories of masks, gowns and gloves. Data comes from hospitals and health systems that use Premier for supplies. 

16 key takeaways from the report: 

Exam gloves 

  • Availability of exam gloves is expected to be constrained into 2023.

  • Global demand for nitrile exam gloves exceeds production capacity by about 215 billion units, or about 40 percent.

  • Shortages have been exacerbated by raw material scarcity, port closures and delays, and a twofold increase in usage since June 2020.

  • Hospitals and health systems cited access to exam gloves as the second-greatest challenge to care for COVID-19 patients in January, behind clinical staffing.

  • As of March 1, most hospitals have less than 30 days of exam gloves on hand.

  • Glove spend rose 250 percent between November 2020 and March 2021. 

N95 masks 

  • As COVID-19 cases drove a surge in demand for N95 masks during the first wave of the pandemic, most health systems had about 23 days of N95s on hand. One year later, the N95 market is still constrained, but not in active shortage.

  • The average hospital now has about 200 days of N95 masks on hand, even as N95 usage nearly quadrupled between April and December of last year. This is due both to supply conservation measures taken by health systems and stockpiling efforts in periods of COVID-19 case decline. 

Surgical & isolation masks 

  • Usage of surgical and isolation masks tripled between June 2020 and March 2021.

  • Most health systems now have about 45 days of masks on hand, up from a low of roughly 30 days in December 2020.

  • By February 2021, surgical mask spend was about 100 percent higher than February 2020. 

Isolation gowns

  • When manufacturers began prioritizing N95s and other masks, isolation gown supply compressed.

  • Isolation gowns surpassed N95 masks as the top PPE shortage concern by mid-April 2020, with 74 percent of health systems saying gowns were their top concern.

  • By May 2020, most health systems had only about 20 days of isolation gowns on hand.

  • Gown usage has roughly doubled since June 2020, but most health systems had about 40 days supply on hand as of March 1.

  • Gown purchasing was up about 100 percent in February and March this year compared to February 2020. 

The overall PPE supply chain remains precarious as COVID-19 variants circulate and the vaccination rollout continues, Premier concluded. 

Read the full report here.


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