Supply Chain Planning Challenges: Using Technology to Plan Amidst Vaccine Distribution

Supply Chain Planning Challenges
COVID-19 vaccine distribution and the supply chain—these topics carry a newfound weight today. According to Costas Paris of The Wall Street Journal, “When Pfizer Inc. said last month it expected to ship half the COVID-19 vaccines it had originally planned for this year, the decision highlighted the challenges drug makers face in rapidly building supply chains to meet the high demand.” Supply chain planning for such an effort has never been undertaken, and logisticians need to know the top challenges arising and how logistics optimization and technology can help.

COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Is a Huge Undertaking for Supply Chain Planning

The globe has experienced its fair share of supply chain planning and distribution challenges in the past. However, nothing is quite like the planned COVID-19 vaccine distribution. As reported by TechTarget, “The most remarkable aspect of the COVID-19 vaccine supply chain is its scope, both in the number of players involved and in the number of vaccines that need to be distributed,” said Stephen Meyer, research director in Gartner’s supply chain group. Like the most complex supply chains, the need for a fast, go-to-market for the vaccine is quite simply the most pressing supply chain planning challenge in existence. The only way to track and manage this undertaking as a logistics professional is with the end-to-end visibility that’s only available in an enterprise-class TMS.

International Governments’ Involvement Complicates Vaccine Distribution

The involvement of governments from around the globe results in extreme supply chain hurdles during this vaccine distribution. Each government possesses new and unprecedented transportation barriers. The problems are only growing worse due to the nature of COVID-19 as well. In recent weeks, fears over a more contagious version of the virus have prompted border crossing blockades in the UK. That does not apply to imports for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. However, it results in added challenges for maintaining an inventory of necessities and even food. In recent days, Lufthansa donated more than 80 tons of food to the UK to help. Despite the supply chain planning challenges, international governments must work together and understand both the people and the supply chain’s real needs to enable a speedy vaccine distribution. For that reason, a global TMS with an extensive partner ecosystem is necessary.

Different Manufacturer Vaccines Have Different Transport Requirements

Another supply chain planning challenge resides within the vaccine storage differences. Pfizer’s vaccine requires extreme cold for viability, adding pressure to the supply chain and the need for visibility. Real-time temperature monitoring and movement tracking are the only ways health providers can guarantee the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety. Simultaneous transport of the Moderna vaccine has a much more stable shelf life and only requires basic refrigeration. That distinction means the urgency is less for Moderna, but again, the added pressure to complete distribution as quickly and as efficiently as possible remains. That’s why it’s critical to have a supply chain planning resource that can consider multiple modes based on cargo value and transport requirements. Such systems must also continue to function around the clock, eliminate downtime, and save lives.

The Supply Chain Must Evolve to enable a Community-Wide Scale and Focus

Supply chain planning challenges are nothing new. Yet, the hope and future of the world rest upon lifelong logistics experts’ ability to hasten supply chain planning and leverage technology to enable the greatest vaccine distribution in history. Nothing in our history comes close to this effort. The supply chain must evolve to enable a communitywide scale and focus. It’s not just distribution to one place; it is rapid distribution to everywhere and everyone. If nothing else, it comes down to the need for end-to-end transparency and immediate executability on all shipments. Of course, those functions, while vital for successful vaccine distribution, will also be critical to handling the next disruption on the horizon.

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