Why do supply chains matter?
It is through the supply chain that a drug or a vaccine reach the end user at the right time, in the right place and in the right condition. It includes all personnel, systems, equipment, and activities involved in ensuring that drugs and vaccines are effectively delivered from the point of production to the person who needs the vaccine.
If a supply chain is not properly managed, something is bound to go wrong. The importance of strong and well managed supply chains multiply when the volume of products and people involved are large.
For instance, in the case of vaccines, ensuring vaccines reach every child, wherever they live, is a complex process. A number of factors have to converge to make this a reality. Not only do vaccines have to arrive in time to be distributed where they are needed, all vaccines must be continuously stored at the appropriate temperature from the time they are manufactured up until the moment of use.
High-cost and logistical constraints significantly hamper access to vaccination. The same applies for drugs. Supply chains are vulnerable to a number of risks, which tend to increase in the coming years due to increase in volume, doses and cost of vaccines.
Moreover, sub-optimally managed supply chains facilitate counterfeiting, misuse and misplacement of vaccines and drugs. Until supply chains are improved, stock-outs, avoidable wastage, inadequate storage, and potential administration of compromised or expired vaccines or drugs will increasingly threaten coverage, equity, and cost-effectiveness of health programs.
How does a vaccine supply chain look like?
General (Simplified) Supply Chain
Vaccine Supply Chain – UNICEF
Vaccine Supply Chain – WHO
Pharmaceutical Supply Chain – General
The images above all simplify a complex process.In most cases, there are many more steps. Most Government health programmes that involve imported drugs or vaccines, for instance, have complex supply-chain processes with as many as seven steps: temporary airport storage during customs clearance; the central vaccine storage; regional storage; provincial storage; district storage; health centers; and when the nurse travels by bus or on foot to reach a remote location where a child has been born—a so-called outreach session. At each step, records must be maintained and transmitted. Each transfer increases the risk of bottlenecks or breakdowns.
Moreover, whether for drugs, vaccines or cars, supply chains include far more than just shipping, storing, and issuing supplies. The most effective chains include extensive integration with program and financial planning, forecasting, production, and procurement processes to create a seamless, continuously adjusted, end-to-end system.
Modern supply chains can provide precision and transparency, for which they depend on a constant flow of information up and down the chain to maintain their flexibility and responsiveness. A smoothly functioning supply chain requires that each link in the chain be synchronized with and supportive of the operation of the chain as a whole. Optimizing only one component of the supply chain, such as international transport, or one attribute, such as cost, may adversely affect the supply chain’s overall efficiency and effectiveness.