Ending the Global Pandemic Starts with An Adaptable Supply Chain

Mon, Sep 20, 2021

The development of no less than five separate, highly effective vaccines against COVID-19 in less than a year is nothing short of miraculous. As the UK, like the US and Israel, nears the completion of its vaccine rollout, attention will now turn to efforts to vaccinate the rest of the world. But whilst good healthcare infrastructure and a unified standard of regulation has allowed a relatively smooth vaccine deployment here in the UK, there will be large challenges for the pharmaceutical supply chain as it attempts to navigate a global vaccination programme. What lessons can be learnt from the pandemic, and what best practice steps can the healthcare supply chain follow, in order to meet the challenges of a global vaccine rollout over the next year?

Whilst the vaccination programmes here in the UK and in the likes of Israel and the US have been successful, a wider rollout will be a much tougher challenge. The problems faced by some European countries in procuring and distributing vaccines have been well publicised, with the vaccination rollout in the developing world almost non-existent. Both have struggled because their supply chains have not been able to cope with the challenges of a rapid pharmaceutical rollout, albeit for different reasons; poor levels of healthcare infrastructure have played a large role in disrupting rollout efforts in African nations, with a variance in regulatory advice and standards hindering a unified EU coordination of the vaccine rollout in Europe. Both European and African nations have also struggled with procurement issues, with too little stock at some points, and too much to effectively manage at others, leading to wasted jabs.

Adaptable healthcare supply chain
So, what can be done to expedite the global rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines? From a supply chain perspective, the answer is actually quite a bit.

Take the practicalities of ensuring people receiving the jab are accurately recorded, so they receive their second dose of the right vaccine at the right time. All vaccine manufacturers have included barcodes on the vaccines, but only at the secondary packaging level. That means the ability to scan the barcode is lost if a box or case of vaccines (which could include 1,000 doses) must be distributed in smaller quantities, say to a rural community. Without the barcode, all documentation, including stock usage, which patient received which vaccine, where and when, and the associated storage conditions, must be recorded manually, which is far more prone to error. Improving packaging and enabling digital inventory management even at the most granular, single jab level, would be a game changer for the rollout of vaccines within remote communities.

There also needs to be an extension of the collaborative spirit behind vaccine development into the supply chain itself. With collaboration comes greater visibility across the supply chain and into the myriad factors that impact supply chain performance. One of the best examples of this is dry ice. Dry ice is critical to the vaccine cold chain, but its production is also dependent upon ethanol production, which produces carbon dioxide, one of the ingredients in dry ice. With people driving less, ethanol production has declined along with the supply of dry ice. As supply chain professionals know, the supply chain is only as strong, only as resilient as its weakest link.

So, in addition to improving vaccine packaging and extending a collaborative approach to vaccines into the supply chain, what other steps can the healthcare supply chain follow to help meet the challenges of a global vaccine rollout?

Here are five best practices we can determine from lessons learned during the vaccine distribution in the UK, US and Israel:

  • Minimise variation whenever possible. Some degree of natural variation will always exist; the key is to minimize variation that we can control, such as who is eligible for the vaccine, how it is distributed and how it is identified and tracked across the supply chain.
  • Leverage the tools we have: Most pharmaceuticals and medical devices have an auto-identification carrier (e.g., a barcode) to support electronic vs. manual capture of product information. But barcodes are only of value if you use them.
  • Invest in automation: Scanning barcodes on patients and medicines has become the standard operating practice in healthcare. It’s been proven to reduce medical errors while reducing the amount of time spent by clinicians on clerical tasks. It should be how we document the movement and use of all products across the supply chain and in-patient care.
  • Create multi-directional visibility: Many of the supply chain challenges during the pandemic were exacerbated by a lack of visibility into inventory and demand. Due to the interdependencies of the supply chain, this visibility needs to extend upstream into raw materials, downstream into forecasted demand at all locations where care is delivered and across to the sources of various supplies and products upon which supply chain operations depend.
  • Call on the experts: When meeting critical supply chain challenges, call on the experience and expertise of supply chain professionals working every day in hospitals across the nation. These experts often manage spend that rivals that of major corporations and facilitate the sourcing and delivery of a wide range of products to meet their patient population’s various health needs. They know healthcare, they know how to implement an adaptable supply chain and they know the communities they serve.

Here in the UK, we’ve seen the incredible effects a successful vaccine rollout can have on reducing the severity and mortality of COVID-19. It’s critical now, as the world hopes to open back up following over a year and a half of restrictions, that we replicate the vaccine success across the rest of the world. That starts with an adaptable supply chain that learns lessons from the pandemic and applies this learning to help meet the challenges of supporting a global vaccination programme.


Article sourced from: https://thejournalofmhealth.com/ending-the-global-pandemic-starts-with-an-adaptable-supply-chain/
Published on: 16.08.21

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