Before Florence pummeled the East Coast, ultimately killing at least 17 people and causing untold millions in damage, some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies wrestled with a major dilemma: Should they suspend operations at manufacturing plants in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, risking shortages of important drugs and vaccines?
GlaxoSmithKline chose to close a plant that makes asthma inhalers, while Novartis shut down a facility that manufactures oral-dosage generic drugs. Pfizer and Merck, meanwhile, decided to scale back operations at multiple North Carolina facilities, closing some entirely.
At stake was not only the safety of thousands employed at these plants in a region known for manufacturing medicine, but the loss of drugs already in production that could set companies back millions of dollars. “Even a shutdown for a few days can affect supply across the country,” said Sharona Hoffman, a professor of health law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University. “It’s a big concern.”