The KN95 mask is China’s version of the N95 mask. 3M, America’s largest manufacturer of N95 masks, said in January that the masks are equivalent. But the FDA is not allowing KN95s into the country.
Buzzfeed: The KN95 mask is a Chinese alternative to the scarce N95 mask, but the FDA refuses to allow it into the country.
…By law, masks, along with most medical devices, can’t be imported or sold in the United States without the Food and Drug Administration’s say-so. Last week, to ease the national shortfall of protective gear, the FDA issued an emergency authorization for non-N95 respirators that had been certified by five foreign countries as well as the European Union. It conspicuously left the KN95 masks out of the emergency authorization.
The omission was all the more startling because in late February the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that KN95 masks were one of numerous “suitable alternatives” to N95 masks “when supplies are short.”
…Allowing the importation and use of KN95 could help to greatly alleviate the scarcity.
“The KN95 masks are far more readily available,” said Bob Tilton, who owns a New Jersey–based cosmetics packaging importer and earlier this month decided to use his familiarity with Chinese supply chains to bring in masks and other personal protective equipment to sell to hospitals. “The N95s are much harder to grab.”
Yet without the FDA’s seal of approval, importers are hesitant to order KN95 masks because they worry they’ll get held up at customs.
It’s not just the FDA that is to blame, however. America’s legal system is also to blame:
Many hospitals are refusing to accept them, even as free donations, because they fear legal liability should a health care worker get ill while using a nonpermitted device…Although some hospitals flat-out reject KN95 masks at any price on advice of their lawyers, people rounding up masks to give to hospitals have found that individual doctors or nurses will often accept the donations, given the dire need.
Consider that last bit of insanity. The ethical and common-law type rule is very simple: Do everything reasonable to protect your hospital workers. But what some feckless hospital administrators are actually doing is following “the law” even if it conflicts with the ethical rule.