The coronavirus outbreak has exposed the United States’ dangerous dependence on China for pharmaceutical and medical supplies, including an estimated 97 percent of all antibiotics and 80 percent of the active pharmaceutical ingredients needed to produce drugs in the United States.
The economic repercussions of the coronavirus reveal the dangers of allowing one country to have a near monopoly on global manufacturing, David Dayen explains in an article at the American Prospect:
About 40 percent of generic drugs sold in the U.S. have only a single manufacturer. A significant supply chain disruption could cause shortages for some of many of these products.
Last year, manufacturing of intermediate or finished goods in China, as well as pharmaceutical source material, accounted for 95 percent of U.S. imports of ibuprofen, 91 percent of U.S. imports of hydrocortisone, 70 percent of U.S. imports of acetaminophen, 40 to 45 percent of U.S. imports of penicillin, and 40 percent of U.S. imports of heparin, according to the Commerce Department. In total, 80 percent of the U.S. supply of antibiotics are made in China.
While much of the fill finishing work (the actual formulation of finished drug capsules and tablets) is done outside China (and often in India) the starting and intermediate chemicals are often sourced in China. Moreover, the U.S. generic drug industry can no longer produce certain critical medicines such as penicillin and doxycycline without these chemical components.