Ventilator Rationing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

What system should be employed by the US federal government to equitably distribute ventilators, life-saving breathing machines, during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic?

Will Ma  | Fall 2020
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In March 2020 the United States was facing an outbreak of the highly infectious and potentially life-threatening COVID-19 virus that had already spread throughout much of Asia and Europe. As medical facilities prepared for the worst, it became clear that ventilators, the medical device used to “breathe” for patients in severe respiratory distress, were in short supply. Following a presidential declaration of a federal emergency on March 13, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began coordinating procurement and distribution of medical supplies and equipment, including mechanical ventilators. The process required that state authorities send requests to FEMA—however the process soon proved imperfect with states receiving only a fraction of the ventilators they ordered. This case asks students to consider what a “fair” method for allocating ventilators would be—and what principles could be applied to better align incentives and coordinate supply chains in future medical crises.

Case ID: 210201
Supplemental Materials: Teaching Note

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