Shawn Baird's trucks move essential medications, vaccines and the raw ingredients to make them between Canada and the U.S. every day. He painted a stark picture of the consequences if the cross-border medical trade breaks down.
"People die. That's what would happen. It can't happen," said Baird, the president of Ontario-based Sharp Transportation Systems, which specializes in hauling pharmaceutical products.
Whether medical products will continue to flow freely during the COVID-19 pandemic came into question last week after the Trump administration pressed 3M Company (NYSE: MMM) to stop exporting its N95 respirator masks to Canada and other countries as U.S. medical personnel and hospitals face shortages.
While Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would not take any retaliatory measures if the U.S. cuts exports of N95 masks, he noted that "the U.S. will be hurting itself as much as Canada will be hurting if we see an interruption of essential goods and services flow back and forth across the border."
Carrier moves four truckloads of insulin to US each day
A Sharp truck in New York. (Image: Sharp Transportation Systems)
Sharp Transportation sends 10 trucks to the U.S. on a typical day. Four of those trucks deliver insulin to a distributor in Indiana, while the others haul essential medications ranging from penicillin to human growth hormone in addition to a number of vaccines.
"These are lifesaving medications," Baird said
Sharp's trucks haul a different mix back to Canada. The raw materials used to make medications — drug precursors and pharmaceutical-grade water — represent a large portion of the backhaul in addition to medications needed in Canada, such as chemotherapy drugs and birth control.
Baird is not that worried that the tensions over N95 masks mark the beginning of the breakdown of the cross-border medical trade.
"It's just completely illogical for both sides," Baird said.
Cross-border pharma trade a $10 billion industry
Pharmaceutical trade between the U.S. and Canada totaled more than US$10 billion in 2019, according to Statistics Canada. Canada also exported $1.9 billion more in pharmaceuticals to the U.S. than it imported.
Baird expects that demand for pharmaceuticals will ramp up as treatments become available for COVID-19. He also has the option to buy 10 new trailers to handle the additional freight.
Meanwhile, Baird has started taking on bonuses for his drivers who go to the U.S., depending on the length of the trip.
"These drivers have really stepped up," Baird said.
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