The emergence of COVID-19 marked the beginning of a public health crisis the scale of which we have never seen. Amid this unprecedented challenge, the pharmaceutical supply chain — powered by distributors — quickly adapted and adjusted to the global pandemic, protecting the steady supply of critical, lifesaving medicines and vaccines to hospitals, pharmacies, providers and patients.
From the earliest days of the pandemic, the supply chain collaborated to minimize disruptions for patients and laid the groundwork for ongoing response efforts and the current immunization campaign. Looking ahead, applying the lessons learned from the response effort to date will be instrumental as we work to fully vaccinate the majority of the country and plan for future public health crises.
#1 The Private Sector Is a Crucial Partner
In the face of a global pandemic, pharmaceutical distributors and their supply chain partners deployed experience from past emergencies, strong relationships and infrastructure to support the national response. Distributors collaborated with the private sector and all levels of government to direct medicines to the frontlines while continuing to meet the daily healthcare needs of all Americans.
#2 Responding to Supply Challenges Requires Adaptation
The unprecedented demand for critical medicines during the early stages of the pandemic placed significant strain on the pharmaceutical supply chain. In response, distributors and their supply chain partners were forced to adapt to the rapidly evolving situation on the ground.
Distributors quickly put in place drug allocation programs to ensure efficient and fair distribution of pharmaceuticals in the face of surging demand. By balancing historical usage with the urgent, heightened need to treat COVID-19 patients, distributors used these programs to help support care providers on the frontlines across the U.S. to combat the virus and protect the stability of the supply chain.
#3 Coordination Across the Supply Chain Is Essential
There were few significant disruptions beyond COVID-19 therapeutics because of the constant coordination among healthcare trading partners.
Leveraging their 360-degree-view of the supply chain, distributors communicated with partners about inventory availability and were able to help hospitals, pharmacies and providers find alternatives for in-demand products. At least 83 percent of drugs that were reported in shortage to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had a second-line or alternative treatment available.
#4 The Strategic National Stockpile Plays a Critical Role During Public Health Emergencies
Distributors are working directly with the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) to store, manage and distribute medicines. Additionally, the industry is helping to restructure and resupply the stockpile so that there are enough medicines and personal protective equipment in the event of future COVID-19 surges or other public health crises.
The Biden-Harris Administration recently completed a 100-day supply chain review, which concluded that it will be critical to take steps to reform the SNS, improve transparency across the pharmaceutical supply chain and balance cost implications. Distributors are well positioned to support these efforts, and the industry stands ready to further leverage its logistics expertise, capacity and capabilities.
#5 Discovering Breakthrough Treatments Is Just the First Step in Turning Vaccines into Vaccinations
The successful development of COVID-19 vaccines in record time marked a groundbreaking step in the fight against the pandemic. But the campaign to immunize the country against the virus didn’t end there.
The effort to distribute and administer tens of millions of vaccine doses is a testament to the efficacy of public- and private-sector partnerships in combating COVID-19. Distributors are serving as the centralized distributorof vaccines through the federal government, supporting vaccine distribution in their home states and working as the primary distributor of all COVID-19 related therapeutics authorized for emergency use by the FDA.
Further, as the Biden administration made fully activating pharmacies across the country a central part of its vaccination strategy, distributors are serving as network administrators in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination to place orders with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on behalf of independent, small chain and long-term care pharmacies.
While further clinical study of COVID-19 vaccines will dictate what is next for Americans, as we shift to managing the virus, much like we would the annual flu season, our members already are planning for several future scenarios. Whatever is needed to ensure booster shots or annual vaccinations get to where they need to go safely and efficiently, distributors will be ready to answer the call when our logistics expertise is needed.
The Healthcare Distribution Alliance (HDA) and our members are committed to continuing to work with federal and state governments, deploying our logistics expertise and applying the early lessons learned to response efforts to the distribution of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. While the battle against COVID-19 is not yet over, these lessons will be crucial to strengthening our collective response to future public health crises.
For additional resources and information on distributors response to COVID-19, click here.