EF-3 tornado damage to Pfizer plant could exacerbate drug shortages, health experts warn

According to Pfizer’s website, the facility produces various products, including anesthesia, therapeutics, anti-infectives and neuromuscular blockers. A spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company said the North Carolina facility never manufactured nor stored the COVID-19 vaccine.

ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. – The impacts from an EF-3 tornado that caused extensive damage to a large Pfizer facility in eastern North Carolina will likely be felt nationwide as the country was already experiencing logistical shortfalls, health experts warned.

The Pfizer facility took what appeared to be a direct hit on Wednesday, halting operations at one of the most extensive sterile injectable processing facilities in the world.

Healthcare Ready, a non-profit group that helps communities respond to and recover from natural disasters and outbreaks, says it is closely monitoring the situation and warns that some treatments may face supply chain impacts.

The organization is closely monitoring Bicillin L-A and penicillin due to the facility producing nearly a quarter of the country’s sterile injectables.

A previous temporary shutdown of the facility in 2012, while under different ownership, contributed to a nationwide shortage of anesthesia and other medicines, a Healthcare Ready report stated.


A spokesperson for Pfizer said Bicillin, an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections, was not manufactured at the plant, and the company does not anticipate impacts to the drug.

The pharmaceutical company did not state which specific medications or healthcare-related products were damaged during the severe weather or when production would be restored.

Pfizer CEO and Chairman Albert Bourla said the company spent the first day after the disaster making sure all its employees and contractors were safe and accounted for. 

"I am very relieved to share that all have been confirmed safe, and no serious injuries were reported. Our colleagues at the site do incredibly important work manufacturing sterile injectable products used by hospitals and health care providers around the world. We already have teams on the ground assessing the damage and supporting our colleagues, and we are working urgently to determine the best way to get back online as quickly as possible, while ensuring the safety of our people," Bourla said in a statement.


Subsequent assessments of the 1.4 million square feet facility are expected to give state and federal agencies guidance on the impacts on production.

Due to hazards still present at the site, a spokesperson said the survey process is taking longer than anticipated.

The Food and Drug Administration said it is working with the company to better understand the impacts on the nation’s drug supply.

Before the severe weather, around 140 drugs were listed to be in short supply, according to the administration’s database.

Pfizer is also one of the largest producers of the COVID-19 vaccine, but a spokesperson said the Rocky Mount location neither manufactured nor stored the vaccine.