Ford Motor Co said on March 30 that it will produce 50,000 ventilators over the next 100 days at a plant in Michigan in cooperation with General Electric's healthcare unit, and can then build 30,000 per month as needed to treat patients afflicted with the coronavirus.
Ford said the simplified ventilator design, which is licensed by GE Healthcare from Florida-based Airon Corp and has been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, can meet the needs of most COVID-19 patients and relies on air pressure without the need for electricity.
Officials in states hard hit by the pandemic have pleaded with the Trump administration and manufacturers to speed up production of ventilators to cope with a surge in patients struggling to breathe. Hospitals in New York already are using one ventilator to sustain two patients. New Orleans has a fraction of the ventilators it needs for a surge of COVID-19 patients, Louisiana officials said.
On March 27, President Donald Trump said he would invoke powers under the Defense Production Act to direct manufacturers, including Ford and General Motors Co, to produce ventilators.
On March 30, the head of the United Auto Workers and other officials compared the auto industry's effort to build ventilators to Detroit's conversion to bomber production during the World War Two.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
Ford said it plans to begin production of ventilators at a plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, deploying 500 United Auto Workers employees.
It said it plans to start production at the facility the week of April 20. That is roughly when New York officials expect the peak of COVID-19 cases to hit their state.
Ventilators built by Ford, GM and others could be used in other parts of the United States where the peak case loads are expected later.
GM said Sunday it plans to produce up to 10,000 ventilators a month by this summer at a plant in Kokomo, Indiana.
The Ypsilanti workers will be stationed at a safe distance apart and will be screened for symptoms of coronavirus infection before they enter the plant, Ford officials said.
"We're using and deploying a whole host of technologies to keep workers safe," said Adrian Price, director of global manufacturing core engineering for Ford. The safety procedures will be adapted from work Ford and the UAW have been doing to prepare for the automaker to reopen other US factories, Price said.
Separately, GE and Ford engineers are working together to boost production at a GE plant in Madison, Wisconsin, of a GE ventilator, different from the model licensed from Airon.GE expects to double ventilator output from the Wisconsin plant during the second quarter, Tom Westrick, GE Healthcare's vice president for quality, said during a call with reporters on March 30.