Pfizer suspending operations at U.S. injectables plant as hurricane approaches

Hurricane Florence Tuesday Forecast
Pfizer is idling a sterile injectables plant in North Carolina ahead of landfall by Hurricane Florence. (Graphic by the National Hurricane Center)

Weather is again taking a toll on the U.S. supply of injected drugs as Pfizer is suspending production at a key sterile injectables plant in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, ahead of Hurricane Florence.

The New York drugmaker says it is monitoring the situation and plans to suspend production on Thursday at two plants in North Carolina ahead of landfall by the hurricane. A spokesman said the company has taken steps to avoid interruptions in drug supplies but provided no specifics.

“Only essential emergency, utility, and monitoring personnel will be onsite during the storm. Our primary concern is the safety of our colleagues, and our ability to ensure uninterrupted supply of medicines to our patients," an emailed statement said. "Pfizer has contingency plans in place to ensure the continuity of supply, and mitigate interruptions during natural disasters."

The hurricane has the potential to be the worst in 60 years, with lingering rains and flooding as well as high winds. Residents around Rocky Mount have been told to be prepared to evacuate.

RELATED: Shortages of drugs and saline reported as Puerto Rico hurricane damage lingers

U.S. hospitals are already suffering shortages of many sterile injectable drugs, including pain drugs made at Pfizer’s Hospira plant in McPherson, Kansas, because of manufacturing issues laid out in a warning letter last year. Pfizer received a close-out letter for the McPherson plant in June but Pfizer has said it doesn’t expect full recovery of those supplies until 2019.

Last fall, ongoing shortages of saline were exacerbated when hurricanes ripped through Puerto Rico, tearing down power lines and interrupting production at three saline plants operated there by Baxter International.   

Manufacturers upped production at other plants, and the FDA allowed some companies to import product from plants that were not approved for U.S. sales, but even those efforts could not keep the healthcare system from feeling the pinch.