Ever since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the COVID-19 outbreak had reached global pandemic status, the world has been breathlessly awaiting the development of a vaccine to combat it.
That milestone appears to have been reached recently as a few life sciences organizations separately announced they had achieved the nearly impossible—R&D and production of a vaccine with high efficacy in less than a year. And now the FDA has granted emergency use authorization to the vaccine with healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents being the first in line to receive it. Life sciences companies will continue to see similar approvals by regulatory agencies in different parts of the world triggering global supply chain distribution and logistics activities.
Of course, any vaccine is only as effective as our ability to get it into the hands (and arms) of the global population. It does little good sitting in a warehouse.
So, with that in mind, here are eight predictions on the vaccine supply chain elements that will matter most in 2021.
1. Visibility of supply and demand will be critical.
Life sciences organizations must have a mechanism in place that gives them full visibility into the global supply and demand so they can meet fair share distribution requirements set by governmental agencies on a country-by-country basis. This means that these organizations must have technology that signals when supplies in an area or region are reaching critically low levels so they can replenish those supplies as needed.
The complication here is that many countries will have their own business rules set by the tolerance range of federal, state, and local agencies to ensure there isn’t a shortage, so any technology used to manage the supply chain must take those rules into account. Manufacturers will then need to monitor their stock situation upstream, at their own manufacturing facilities, contractor, and raw material supplier sites, as well as downstream at the point of distribution to ensure adequate supplies are available to meet the fair share distribution model.
2. Life sciences organizations will need to collaborate.
Any manufacturing facility only has so much capacity available. Even if manufacturers scale rapidly, they will still need to evaluate vendors outside of their value chain to manufacture all the doses the world needs. The same is true for distribution.
Life sciences organizations will ramp up their own warehouses with people and technology but that won’t be enough. They will need to collaborate with other manufacturers, as well as other distribution organizations such as wholesalers, retail pharmacies, and provider hospitals with their own supply chains to get the vaccine everywhere it needs to be.
Additionally, given the requirements for storage at extremely low temperatures, they will need to collaborate on cold chain distribution and be sure the right infrastructure and equipment is available to ensure the quality and effectiveness of the vaccine is maintained when dispensing to the patient.
3. Understanding business needs and legislative rules will help build efficient supply chain contingency plans.
Life sciences manufacturers need to have improved business relationships with various service partners that can help with contingency plans. Disruption can take place due to unexpected events like adverse weather. A strong collaborative management effort is needed that establishes solid business rules based on common sense and supporting data to cover rationing and distribution.
Technology can also help manufacturers understand and adhere to new regulations that will have an impact on supply chain processes. Manufacturers will need to prepare distribution plans based on those rules, which everyone will be required to follow. On an international level, manufacturers will need to translate what industry or vaccine consortiums are saying on a local level so they can understand the rules and prepare to meet them in those areas.
4. Analytics will play a key role in effective distribution.
With so many different rules and regulations coming from different regulating bodies, the operating rules for manufacturers will also be different in different geographies of the world. There will be no “one size fits all” approach.
The demand patterns coming in from different sources around the world will need to be better analyzed by the manufacturing and distribution organizations, so they are prepared to continuously revamp and tailor the supply chain. This will require sophisticated IT tools that can analyze complex data in real time and translate it into actionable insights.
Life sciences organizations must ensure swift data flow about demand patterns and match them against supply signals to determine whether they have adequate supplies available to meet demand under fair share distribution requirements or must seek outside manufacturing capacity. The more data they have, the smoother the flow will be.
With the right planning tools and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms they can build simulation models that will help them get as close as possible to meeting the demand, even under challenging conditions.
5. Life sciences organizations will face some tough decisions in other areas, tech can help.
The urgency of resolving the global pandemic is drawing a lot of attention, but life sciences organizations also have other non-COVID-19 products in the clinical trials pipeline. Some will face tough business decisions on where to direct their limited resources.
Most likely they will continue the development of future blockbuster drugs, but they will have to determine whether to delay the launch of certain new clinical trials for products with smaller markets temporarily to focus more resources on the vaccine. These tough decisions will be best made with the help of software tailored specifically to the industry.
6. Life sciences organizations will need to address counterfeit vaccines.
Counterfeit drugs are a reality in the pharmaceutical business, and it’s likely the COVID-19 vaccine won’t escape unscathed. Many countries, including the U.S., Turkey, India, S. Korea, Europe, China, etc. have regulations in place to prevent counterfeiting. As a result, companies already have its validation tools adhering to compliance.
Applying these tools will be critical to ensure not only that the vaccines providers are receiving are authentic but also to instill consumer confidence in them. Additionally, track and trace mobile apps will enable consumers to test the authenticity of the drugs they’re receiving, further bolstering confidence.
7. Effort will be needed to educate consumers.
A recent Gallup poll showed that while consumer confidence in vaccines is growing, only 58% said they were willing to be vaccinated. Manufacturers will need to work to educate consumers on the safety and effectiveness of their therapies to improve their comfort levels.
One of the most important messages will be “Take this vaccine and you can avoid a hospital stay.” That should be a powerful statement, especially as it would greatly reduce the overall stress and burden on healthcare costs.
These messages should be everywhere—online in social media, on TV, radio, magazines, and billboards, in doctor’s offices, at hospitals, in grocery stores, and everywhere else patients might see them. The more consumers see positive messages the more inclined they will be to get the vaccination.
8. Life sciences organizations will need to be flexible.
Like everything else associated with COVID-19, the act of getting the vaccine everywhere it needs to be will be fluid. Changes in demand, changes in regulations, unforeseen obstacles such as reverse logistics (returns and recalls), and more are all likely to affect distribution. The best thing life sciences organizations can do to prepare is to ensure the technology and processes they put in place are flexible so they can react appropriately as the situation changes.
Relief from the COVID-19 pandemic is on the way. Now it’s up to the industry to bring these miraculous medications to the masses.
With the right preparation, 2021 can be a banner year for an industry under pressure to deliver critical life-saving drugs. With great planning and a little luck, perhaps 2022’s predictions, like all of us, will be COVID-19-free.