Finding a vaccine is only half the battle; global supply chains and pharmaceutical logistics face many unprecedented challenges amid the pandemic. A logistical supply system capable of overcoming distribution pitfalls needs to be robust, sturdy, innovative, smart, interconnected, and transparent.
In regard to the global supply networks, The World Economic Forum said, “Governments, businesses and individual consumers suddenly struggled to procure basic products and materials, and were forced to confront the fragility of the modern supply chain. The urgent need to design smarter, stronger and more diverse supply chains has been one of the main lessons of this crisis”.
Individual companies are taking initiatives to collaborate and cooperate with manufacturers to produce substantial amounts of vaccines to meet the demands of billions. As one example, Oxford university researchers preemptively made a deal with AstraZeneca to produce and distribute 100 million doses of their potential vaccine before the third stages of their trials had even begun. Such initiative is essential, but production is only half the battle.
According to a report by Amy Hodler, director of AI graph analytics at the Graph Database
company, Neo4j, the technology and the tools that define industry 4.0 may hold the answer in supporting the overwhelming task ahead.
In the article, she expresses how innovations in information and communication technology have enabled better durability, coordination, and flexibility in complex and sensitive supply chains. This allows pharmaceutical logistics and manufacturing companies to make drastic changes to their supply chains needed to fulfill the demand for global vaccination.
To meet the coming challenges, companies need to get a tight grip on storage and transport, monitoring and management, information systems and data management.
It turns out that transporting cargo containers worth of vaccines is a delicate process; they must be kept at cold temperatures throughout the journey from the conveyor belt to the syringe. Such ‘sensitive’ products require special types of connected networks called ‘cold chains’ in which special transportation conditions are maintained throughout the journey.
Pharmaceutical logistics companies need to take into account that many countries will not have easy access to such supply routes due to unreliable or unprepared power grids, bad roads, and lack of proper storage facilities. As such, using a centralized information system may help determine how much any given country may need in real time, whilst taking all of the above into consideration.
A lack of proper storage has been a recurring theme throughout the pandemic. We’ve seen companies paying to give away their fuel reserves due to lack of storage space as it would cost more to keep them.
The proper monitoring of systems however can let everyone along the chain know what capacity is left and whether to dispatch another shipment. The manufacturers would in turn know how much they need to produce for the current demand.
Companies need to work, not just on exclusive and private partnerships, but as part of a global network that shares know-how and grants complete transparency to its supply path. With examples such as WHO’s Covid-19 technology access pool, we are not too far off from a centralized pharmaceutical logistics system that could make the global vaccination journey much easier.
The impact of COVID-19 on transport
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, public transport needs to adapt to a new normal and start adopting greener technologies that will render it resilient to future disasters, according to a report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The report – Guidance Note on COVID-19 and Transport in Asia and the Pacific illustrates the impact of COVID-19 on transport, as lockdowns forced millions of people to begin working remotely, schools to shift to e-learning and customers to resort to online shopping and food delivery.
While notions of public transport have been previously perceived as mostly green, affordable, and efficient means of travel, initial trends in cities that have re-opened indicate that public transport is still considered relatively unsafe, and is not bouncing back as quickly as cycling, walking or private vehicles.
Further impact of COVID-19 on transport have manifested as drastic lockdown measures around the globe brought world economies to their knees. Satellite footage recorded data on how concentrations of CO2 and air pollutants fell drastically, bringing clear blue skies to some cities. However, as cities reopened, traffic levels have increased. If this trend continues on a wider scale, it could remove decades of effort that have been put into promoting sustainable development. As public transport reopens, confidence of passengers can be restored through health and safety measures like cleaning, tracking, face covering and thermal scanning
As some countries are starting to enter the recovery phase, further precautionary and preventive operating measures and advanced technology can be implemented to enable contactless process and ease an agile response. Demand management steps can ease crowd control in public transport and in airports. Government initiatives and financial aid are critical during this period to enable public transport to continue supporting the movement of passengers and goods in a sustainable way.
The latest on COVID-19 testing technologies
The NIH (National Institute of Health) is set to invest $248.7 million in new COVID-19 testing technologies to better address the current pandemic. NIH’s newly developed Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative has earned contracts to seven different biomedical diagnostic companies to support a wide range of new lab-based and point of care tests that could significantly increase the type, avaialibility and number of tests by millions per week starting as soon as September 2020. Currently, national demand is estimated to be millions more tests per day higher than the current levels, these COVID-19 testing technologies are expected to make a significant impact on expanding the nations testing capabilities.
The seven technologies use various formats and methods and can be performed in a variety of settings to meet different needs. Four of the mentioned COVID-19 testing technologies include innovations in lab-based testing technologies that include CRISPR, next generation sequencing, and integrated microfluidic chips that have a huge potential to increase testing capacity and throughput while reducing testing result times. The other three technologies utilize platforms to provide nucleic acid and viral antigen tests that can produce rapid results at the point of care. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration have been working with NIH and RADx external advisors to offer general advice on test validation and are also prioritizing the review of emergency use authorization (EUA) from tests made by the RADx,
NIH launched RADx on April 29, 2020, just days after receiving an emergency supplemental appropriation of $1.5 billion from Congress to support innovative technologies to make millions of rapid COVID-19 tests per week available to Americans by the fall.
Several experts from academia, government, and industry including the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering’s (NIBIB) Point-of-Care Technology Research Network (POCTRN) are all contributing to the RADx process via evaluating applications, providing technical and clinical resources and by guiding project teams. NIH has selected approximately 100 of the best concepts to join in an intensive one-week “shark tank” technology evaluation process. 31 of these projects successfully made the cut and have moved to Phase 1, an intense four to six-week period of initial technology validation. The seven tests announced are the first to be selected for scale up, manufacturing, and delivery to marketplace via RADx.
COVID-19 and the impact on technology markets
As the current pandemic continues, COVID-19 and the impact on technology is becoming ever-more noticeable. The impact has already started with major brands such as Apple and Nissan reporting knock-on effects caused by production and supply chain dependency in China. Understanding when the outbreak can be brought under control will help determine the severity of market disruptions.
As for COVID-19 and the impact on technology markets, most major manufacturers depend on parts or production capabilities from China. However, China’s manufacturing capacity and workforce have been hit hard from the virus. As of February 20, China reported more than 75,000 people infected with COVID-19, with a majority of the workforce working remotely. Blue collar workers are starting to cautiously return to their manufacturing sites after being away for a while. The pandemic is placing tremendous pressure on the global supply chain, retail and service industries.
While some manufacturers and retailers are able to live off their stocks for a certain time, the scarcity of products will become an issue very soon. This is especially true for the tech industries even with manufacturing capacities in China starting to produce again. The question is whether consumers will be willing to postpone purchases of out-of-stock items or whether they will consider an alternative product that is available right away.
Even though some companies have already made plans to diversify their sourcing, the supply impact cannot be avoided in the short-term. Countries surrounding China have the potential to benefit economically from these production and supply chain moves, especially the ones with a strong manufacturing and tech footprint.
The mitigation and management of risk during disruptions like these on the tech market depend greatly on being able to spot the early changes in buying behavior. The following are important signs to pay attention to when it comes to navigating these turbulent times:
- Are consumers avoiding or pushing off big value purchases?
- Have competitors’ performance changed significantly?
- What are the sectors that are hit the hardest by the drying supply chain?
- What are the effects of postponing launches on key markets?
- How has the split between online and offline shopping changed with most people being self-quarantined right now?
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