WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump, who’s taken to calling the U.S. the “king” of ventilators, is making plans to ship 8,000 of the breathing machines to foreign countries by the end of July to help in their fight against the coronavirus.
That's a long way from the early days of the virus when U.S. medical workers were wondering if a shortage of ventilators would force them to make painful decisions about which patients would get them. Now, the U.S. has a surplus and the president is sharing them with other countries — a goodwill gesture that also helps him offset criticism about his own early response to the pandemic.
The White House did not respond to a request for specifics about how many ventilators have been sent so far, or the criteria for determining which countries will get them. But an administration official familiar with the effort provided the 8,000 figure as part of a list of actions aimed at supporting health systems abroad. The official was not authorized to discuss the projection publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
“We have nine factories that are throwing out ventilators at numbers that nobody can believe. There’s not been anything like that since the Second World War,” Trump said Friday.
Trump said the U.S. was giving the breathing machines to some countries. It was unclear if some nations would pay for the ventilators, which cost $5,000 to $30,000, depending on the model.
“In a certain way, I’d like them to be donations. I really do. I think it’s good will,” Trump said earlier in the week. “It’s hard to say you have to pay us in order to save people from dying.”
The machines shipped to other countries do not come from the national stockpile, which has about 12,000 ready to be deployed to U.S. jurisdictions. The U.S. stockpile, which is maintained by the Department of Health and Human Services, is being replenished with thousands of ventilators manufactured under the Defense Production Act.
“Initially, it was very scary and we had a lot of states requesting numbers that could not be supplied,” Jared Kushner, an adviser to the president and Trump's son-in-law, said Friday during a White House meeting with Republican members of Congress.
“The president wanted to make sure that anybody in this country who needed a ventilator would get a ventilator. He saw what was happening in Italy, where people were dying in hospitals and not able to get the care they needed, and the president said ‘I don’t want that to happen in America.’”
Kushner said the administration used the Defense Production Act to approve about 10 contracts with companies to make ventilators. Last year, the United States made about 30,000 ventilators, Kushner said. This year, in just a four-month period, the U.S. will make about 150,000, he said.
“We’re in a place right now where we’re doing well,” Kushner said. “A lot of our allies — the countries that are friendly with America — are starting to get ventilators from us, and we have more than enough to take care of all the American citizens so it’s been a great success story.”
In recent weeks, Trump has been recounting other countries' calls for help. He said he'd offered Russia's Vladimir Putin ventilators during a call on Thursday.
“Countries know that we have tremendous amounts, tremendous volume and they’ve been calling. Nigeria just called. We’re giving them 250 ventilators. We have many countries, I’d say 12, 14 countries that called,” Trump said this week. “We’re sending quite a few to France. We’re sending quite a few to Spain and, Italy. We have four African countries.”
Early last month, Trump said Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson requested ventilators. A U.K. government spokesperson said the country’s National Health Service had ordered ventilators from manufacturers around the world, including in the U.S. In tweets, Trump has identified Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Ethiopia and Indonesia as countries that have asked for ventilators.
On Tuesday, Mexico said it received a U.S. shipment of 211 medical ventilators as part of aid promised by Trump. “As the saying goes, when there are hard times is when you know who your friends are," said Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard.
Mexican President Andés Manuel López Obrador said Trump promised aid when he called and asked for help in obtaining 1,000 ventilators and other equipment for intensive care units. Ebrard said the shipment includes equipment made by Swiss-based Hamilton Medical.
Bolivia’s right-wing interim government said President Jeanine Añez spoke with Trump last weekend and he promised $750,000 in aid to buy testing equipment and 250 ventilators “as soon as possible.” The Bolivian government said Trump expressed support for Añez and her promise to move the country toward elections.
As the virus outbreak makes its way across the globe, "there are going to be resource-poor areas that need ventilators, that probably have shortages of ventilators on a good day,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Adalja said the ventilators should go to nations that have the intensive care unit doctors and respiratory therapists who understand how to operate them. Some countries don’t have such resources.
“There may be some places where they need even more basic supplies than ventilators,” Adlaja said. “You want to make sure that they are being used in a place that has the capacity to use them and the training to be able to use them.”
Associated Press writers Ben Fox, Darlene Superville and Zeke Miller in Washington and Michael Weissenstein in Havana contributed to this report.