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The Time To Start Preparing For The Next Pandemic Is Now

Topic: The Time To Start Preparing For The Next Pandemic Is Now

In the months before Covid-19 vaccines actually became a reality, there were dire predictions that once one was developed, distributing it would be a failure because of the refrigeration that would needed at all stages of the supply chain. I pointed out that the cold chain already existed and was very robust, and there’d be no problem. Much to my relief, this time I was right. Even though the Pfizer-BioNTech version requires constant cooling to -70 degrees Celsius, any glitches in its rollout have been failures of politics, not distribution. It’s been a huge if unheralded triumph for the medical supply chain.

Celebrating that victory, though, can’t be at the expense of a much-needed analysis of the failures early in the pandemic. There remains an urgent need for the identification and repair of the root causes of the medical supply problems of early last year. “The big thing is that I still don’t think we’ve learned what we need to,” said Dr. Louis Profeta, an emergency physician in Indianapolis and author of The Patient in Room Nine Says He’s God. “You still have some hospitals that horde, and others that don’t have enough of what they need.”

One thing we do already know is that the problems in early 2020 were multifold. They can be broken down into three major components: inventory (or lack thereof), real-time manufacturing and distribution, and systems.

That’s a phrase I coined a long time ago, in response to nearly constant repetition of one of the mantras about supposed waste in the Lean manufacturing world. I suspect the very sound idea that excess inventory is waste was eventually twisted out of shape by executives bent on squeezing out every perceived inefficiency, come hell or high water. “Before the pandemic, it was bad to be caught with a lot of inventory sitting around,” said Christian Lanng, co-founder and CEO of Tradeshift, a global open-source B2B trade platform. “Now, it’s bad to be caught without it. Prior to Covid-19, we were operating on a pure cost basis, so we had no stockpiles of PPE and so on. Now people are stockpiling things that are cheap and can be stockpiled.”

Those efforts to eliminate supposed waste meant nobody was looking at the situation with anything other than a focus on the pre-pandemic steady state. Although a significant pandemic had been predicted for years, it appears almost nobody stopped to think about what might quickly be in short supply should one actually strike. As a result, late last winter we quickly ran short of swabs, face masks, face shields and ventilators, especially in those locations that were hardest hit. (Remember the horror stories out of Italy?)

When we eventually emerge from the Covid-19 crisis, then, those in charge of our medical supply chains need to take a deep look at what items might be critical when something like this strikes again–because it will. Some things we ran short of this time will certainly be in need the next time; PPE, for example. But there may be other items we didn’t run short of due to Covid-19 that we may need desperately in the next crisis.

Topic Discussed: The Time To Start Preparing For The Next Pandemic Is Now

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