FACT CHECK: Donald Trump Falsely Claims The National Stockpile ‘Didn’t Have Any Ventilators’ When He Took Office

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Reporter

President Donald Trump claimed during a Fox News town hall with anchor Sean Hannity on Thursday that “we didn’t have any ventilators” in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) when he took office.

Verdict: False

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has said that there were 16,660 ventilators “immediately available for use” in the nation’s emergency reserve of medical supplies in March, and none of those ventilators had been purchased by the Trump administration.

Fact Check:

Many health experts and politicians feared in March that there would be a shortage of ventilators, which help individuals breathe when they cannot do so on their own, as hospitals around the U.S. braced for an onslaught of coronavirus cases. In early April, the Trump administration started contracting with companies such as General Motors and General Electric to produce ventilators and other medical equipment, according to The Verge.

There do not appear to have been any ventilator shortages so far, and the U.S. has even shipped surplus ventilators abroad, according to CNN. Trump has touted his administration’s success in addressing the issue while on multiple occasions claiming that the Obama administration left very few or no ventilators in the national stockpile, a claim he repeated during the Fox News town hall on Thursday.

But FactCheck.org reported on Monday that an HHS spokesperson said the SNS had 16,660 ventilators “immediately available for use” and another roughly 2,400 in maintenance in March. None of those ventilators were bought by the Trump administration, the spokesperson also told FactCheck.org.

“In general, prior to March of this year, the SNS stored approximately 19,000 ventilators in its inventory for many years, and this number fluctuated on any given day depending on the number of ventilators in scheduled maintenance,” the HHS spokesperson wrote in an email to FactCheck.org. “In January 2017 the total number of ventilators in the SNS inventory immediately available for use would not have been much different than what the SNS had immediately available for use in March 2020.”

The Department of Health and Human Services gave roughly the same ventilator figure to CNN on June 24. The agency also gave a similar 16,600-figure to CBS News on March 26.

Vice President Mike Pence appears to have contradicted Trump’s claim in a June 16 op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal. (RELATED: Donald Trump Claims The Obama Administration ‘Did Nothing’ On Police Reform)

“In March, there were genuine fears that hospitals in our hot spots would run out of personal protective equipment like N95 masks, gloves or, even worse, ventilators for patients battling respiratory failure,” Pence wrote. “The Strategic National Stockpile hadn’t been refilled since the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009, and it had only 10,000 ventilators on hand.”

There were also prior reports of ventilators being in the stockpile from journalists who toured at least one of the SNS warehouses in 2016. A VICE News Tonight crew reported seeing them, and so did an NPR reporter, who recalled “rows upon rows of ventilators.”

An HHS spokesperson told FactCheck.org that the SNS currently has approximately 24,000 ventilators available for deployment. By the end of 2020, nearly 200,000 new ventilators are expected to be delivered to the national stockpile, according to the Associated Press.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

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Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Reporter
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