The following is the summary of “COVID-19 Lessons Learned: Response to the Anticipated Ventilator Shortage” published in the January 2023 issue of Respiratory Care by Branson, et al.

Predictions of a global ventilator shortage in the early stages of the COVID-19 epidemic motivated a worldwide effort to find alternatives. Unfortunately, predictions of the need for ventilators were often off and contributed to the frantic search for equipment. Initial efforts focused solely on acquiring as many ventilators as possible from all around the world. The Strategic National Stockpile dispatched ventilators to the initial outbreak areas in the Northeast and Northwest of the United States. Experts from other fields sacrificed their time, energy, and money to create the first ventilator out of pure altruism rather than reason. 

An insensitive social media video that put virality before gas delivery principles sparked interest in shared ventilation, in which multiple patients share the same ventilator. Many communities have confused a physiological issue with a plumbing issue regarding shared ventilation. The U.S. government invoked the Defense Production Act to require automakers to form joint ventures with existing ventilator manufacturers to increase output. Ventilators, “splitters” that allow for shared ventilation, and other ancillary devices all received emergency use authorization from the FDA. While ventilator rationing was considered in the popular press and scientific research, it was never implemented in the United States.

When it came down to it, planners knew they needed more people who knew how to provide mechanical ventilation. Approximately 200,000 ventilators were purchased by federal, state, municipal, and local governments and healthcare providers in the United States. Most did not help manage COVID-19 ARDS patients’ conditions. This report analyzes the areas of poor judgment so that we may learn in the future.