On Thursday, January 21, 2021, President Biden told the nation that "[W}e are in a national emergency, and it's time we treated it like one." A number of states and local jurisdictions have recently complained that they are running out of doses of the vaccines, and/or do not have any information on how many doses they are being sent, or when and where those doses will arrive. The current vaccine distribution system does not have central coordination nor sufficient visibility for state and local distribution stakeholders, nor for HHS and other government agencies involved in the vaccine rollout efforts. The federal government does not presently appear to have the ability to access how many vaccine doses are available and where those doses are located on a real-time basis. HHS and DHS/FEMA should become more involved with upgrading the vaccine logistical management system. The following are recommendations for logistical inventory and distribution methods that could enhance real-time information flow needed to accurately route, ship, and track doses of the vaccines:
1. State-of-the-Art Logistical Management Systems (LMS) use software tools that can optimize order information and inventory tracking throughout the delivery process to end-users. Order requests for vaccine allotments can be synchronized into one system using a connectivity hub concept. Manufacturers of the vaccines can be connected with carriers and end-users to provide real-time visibility on vaccine shipments-their quantity, destination, current location, and expected arrival times. Because these smart inventory tracking software packages include real-time shipping carrier/vehicle position databases. These modern electronic Inventory Management Systems (IMS) can instantly track and report on all inventory changes. Such systems should be used by the vaccine producers using real-time mobile apps that will allow approved federal, state, and local stakeholders to access this information.
2. Smart IMS software packages use Radio Frequency tags (RDIFs) on products which is what allows for real-time inventory tracking. Warehouse Anywhere is one such system and it has a mobile app option that field personnel can access to get instant inventory updates. The federal government should look into what type of LMS and IMS systems the vaccine manufacturers are currently using, and enter a joint agreement to upgrade to a smart system with the aforementioned capabilities if they do not presently have those. RDIFs can locate inventory in hundreds of locations at the same time, and are reported to give inventory updates much faster than the use of Bar Code technology alone.
3. Integrated Enterprise Resource Tracking Packages (ERP) tied into LMS/IMS systems are what allow the highest volume product shippers in the U.S. to successfully track their inventory and shipments through their entire distribution networks on a real-time basis. Amazon and Walmart are two such examples. Amazon has already offered to partner with the federal government for vaccine distribution. Walmart invented a system that has them rated as a supply chain engineering expert by James Crowell, the Director of the Supply Chain Management Research Center at the Walton College of Business, in 2018. The federal government should reach out to these and similar companies to explore the systems they are using and how those systems might be adapted to the needs of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout program.
4. Walmart has approximately 11,700 retail stores with 2.3 million separate supply chains. Their enormously complex distribution system has several software programs that they created. Their supply chain initiative Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI) has reportedly afforded them close to 100% order fulfillment. Supply chain management is the process of moving the correct product to the right user at the right time in the most effective and efficient manner possible. The federal government should leverage the logistic supply chain management expertise of Walmart to assist in developing a similar system tailored for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout that makes use of distribution Best Practices, including:
a. Vendor compliance programs to improve transportation delivery times;
b. Common product identification and tracking processes for all vaccine inventory to ensure that all approved stakeholders can access the real-time product inventory and distribution tracking information they need to plan and implement appointment systems at vaccination clinics;
c. Contractual agreements with vaccine makers that maximize vaccine production;
d. Use of electronic advanced notice shipping notifications to all vaccine delivery sites.
Barb Mills, FEMA