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Supply Chain Industry Updates

Survey Highlights Challenges to Vaccine Distribution


When will global supply chains be back to their “normal” capacity? Depends on who you ask.

When this question was put recently to North American supply chain professionals at medical device companies, about half said it could take one to two years. But another 26% said it could take up to five years for things to return to normal.

They were more optimistic, however, about the eventual rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine, once it is approved. Sixty-six percent estimated it will take about one year for the necessary equipment to be available to produce and distribute that vaccine at scale.

“The supply chain has experienced delays in manufacturing, shortages in supply and logistics problems due to travel restrictions,” Supplyframe CEO Steve Flagg noted. “But most supply chain professionals believe the U.S. will have the equipment it needs to create and deliver a COVID-19 vaccine within a year of its approval. However, our research points to the many current and potential challenges the nation faces related to vaccinations, testing and equipment availability. And it highlights the importance of data accuracy and intelligence.”

Concerns cited by supply chain professionals in this sector included:

  • Too slow or too fast — Nearly 20% said they believed the vaccine wouldn’t be developed fast enough. About the same percentage worried that a rush to production would lead to recalls.
  • Dubious data — 84% expressed worry about how COVID-19 case data are being collected and reported in the United States and 44% indicated they were concerned about the accuracy of data from COVID-19 testing.
  • Who CARES? — 28% said the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act has not provided enough financial support for medical device production, and 22% said it has not improved supply chain information gaps. 
  • China trade dispute — 82% said they were worried about how tariffs on China would impact the availability of PPE and medical devices. 

The 200 survey participants said medical device supply chain resiliency could be improved to withstand the next big disruption by taking steps such as sourcing locally, improving the qualifications of suppliers and increasing the visibility of supplier inventory, capacity and lead times.

“Procurement is often focused on reacting to supply challenges as they appear,” Flagg said. “But medical equipment companies and other manufacturers that rely on semiconductor and electronics component suppliers can instead use data intelligence to get a broader view of what’s happening in their supply chains so they can build resilience into these solutions upfront.” 

More findings from the survey can be found here.