Distributing many millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses will pose enormous challenges for the United States medical supply chain.
From shortages of medical devices to logistical obstacles, the United States is unprepared—especially since the upcoming flu season will complicate the rollout of any such vaccine, writes Purushottam Meena, Ph.D., associate professor of operations management in NYIT School of Management, in an op-ed in Business Insider.
“Dismantling these roadblocks in the supply chain is the only way to end this pandemic,” he says.
The United States has not yet experienced an entire season with influenza and the coronavirus both circulating at full force. A concurrent surge without sufficient preparation would be a disaster—for patients, providers, and the supply chain.
Stopping it will require an adequate number of flu vaccines, more supplies, closely monitored delivery, and more funding—all of which the vaccine supply chain already struggles with.
Even before COVID-19, there were limited reserves of the medical-grade glass used to make vaccine vials. And the syringes used to inject inoculations are also running low.
There are also shortcomings within the “cold chain” for vaccines, a section of the supply chain that requires temperature control.
Vaccines must be kept typically between 35- and 46-degrees Fahrenheit, even when transported across the country. Many of the COVID-19 vaccines in development may require even cooler temperatures, making cold chain transportation more challenging.
To prevent vaccine shortages these issues must be addressed, Meena cautions.
The U.S. government has contracted with private companies, helping expand manufacturing capacities to make more medical-grade vials. Fostering more partnerships would help alleviate vaccine supply chain roadblocks.
The government could also rethink how it allocates vaccines and heed historical uptake rates to prevent surpluses in some regions and shortages in others.
These changes won’t help without streamlined cold chain transportation processes. But making even simple changes can mitigate damages to scarce vaccine supplies.
“Developing an effective COVID-19 vaccine is merely the beginning of the end of this pandemic. To wipe out the virus, lawmakers need to address shortfalls in the vaccine supply chain,” Meena concludes.
Read the entire op-ed.
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