It’s a Twister! Pfizer Communicates Tornado Crisis

Thom Weidlich 07.27.23


A tornado tore the roof off a Pfizer facility in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, obligating the drugmaker to ease fears about any resulting medicine shortages. It’s done a pretty good job of that, though certainly at a speed slower than the twister itself.

The tornado hit on July 19 at 12:25 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. It lasted about 30 minutes, traveling 16.5 miles on the ground, with peak winds of 150 miles per hour. It was the strongest July tornado in North Carolina, damaging dozens of homes and buildings and injuring 16 people, according to The Washington Post.

Six hours after it hit (too long a wait), Pfizer confirmed the crisis on Twitter and Facebook. It said employees followed protocols and evacuated, with everyone safe. “We are assessing the situation to determine the impact on production,” it wrote.

‘Structural Integrity’

Two days later (too long a wait), the company issued a press release with an update. The facility was temporarily closed, it wrote. “Crews are working around-the-clock to restore power, assess the structural integrity of the building and move finished medicines to nearby sites for storage.”

Most of the damage, it turns out, was to the warehouse facility (pictured), with no major problems at the production sites. The warehouse “stores raw materials, packaging supplies and finished medicines,” the company said. The facility makes about 25 percent of Pfizer’s sterile injectables — including anesthesia, analgesia, therapeutics, anti-infectives and neuromuscular blockers, it said. CEO Albert Bourla toured the site Friday.

Pfizer also sent a letter to hospitals that day with similar information, though with more detail on products that may experience shortages. “Certainly things may worsen a bit, but the information Pfizer has provided lets us know that this is fairly short term and not a yearslong issue we’ll be dealing with,” Erin Fox of University of Utah Health told CNN. See? That’s how communicating in a crisis works.


That same day, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration chimed in with its own press release, emphasizing that it didn’t expect “any immediate significant impacts on supply” and that it had initiated steps to mitigate shortages.

One issue that neither Pfizer nor the FDA dealt with directly (as far as we can tell): rumors that the plant held the company’s COVID-19 vaccine. The Associated Press, and PolitiFact all ran fact checks debunking that one.

Photo Credit: Pfizer

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