Finally! Progress being made in the US federal government supply chain efforts for Covid-19

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For nearly a year, the Covid-19 pandemic has curbed America's daily life — from disrupting school and work, halting supply chains, shifting demand and everything in between. It has felt like a never-ending nightmare. Perhaps the most frustrating part of the pandemic for supply chain professionals has been watching the botched US federal government supply chain response to the pandemic, and its inability to:

  • Lock up manufacturing capacity (e.g., for N95 masks, personal protective equipment, etc.) and more directly help manufacturers ramp up capacity to meet demand
  • Ramp up testing capacity using surveillance testing to pinpoint “demand”
  • Provide transparency to usable inventory stockpiles and allocation rules for distribution
  • Coordinate and aggregate state-level demand rather than a “Hunger Games” environment that includes forward auctions being run by opportunistic middlemen

On Friday, however, the White House announced in its Covid-19 briefing that it will be invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) to ramp up production of vaccines, at-home tests and more PPE. It also named Tim Manning the National Defense Supply Coordinator to help monitor the supply chain as it tries to turn the tide of the pandemic.

This is a huge step. There is finally a person heading up the supply chain side of the pandemic fight. Manning, an ex-FEMA leader and firefighter/EMT, will help lead the federal government’s supply chain response for the Covid-19 pandemic. Manning said that the government will use the DPA to combat the virus in three specific areas that should have immediate and longer-term impacts:

  • The government will supply Pfizer with more funds to ramp up the production of its vaccine supply (e.g., by helping Pfizer acquire more filling pumps and bio-filters) while also expanding the priority rating for it.
  • It will invest in six new suppliers to help deliver over 60 million at-home Covid-19 tests by the summer, helping to provide easy access, rapid tests.
  • Production lines will go to work to rapidly increase manufacturing of nitrile surgical gloves, which are in short supply for frontline workers, with the goal of domestically producing 1 billion a month. Many foreign supply chains have come under fire related to using slave labor, including the US banning the import of latex gloves from a Malaysian firm that is the world’s largest supplier.

Manning said to aid in this process, the government will help build supply chain resilience and capacity by producing new plants focused on the equipment and raw materials needed to manufacture these goods in the USA, rather than totally relying on overseas production.

The federal government has also recently announced the deployment of 1,100 military staff to state-level vaccination sites and also its “Federal Retail Pharmacy Program” to engage major US retail pharmacy chains to help complete the final mile of this vaccination supply chain effort.

It’s a welcome sight to see focused supply chain interventions made by experienced professionals geared toward increasing the flow of Covid-related supply.

And while it also would be nice to see more efforts on improved supply chain visibility, contracting visibility/transparency, increased capacity for PCR testing, and other areas, it’s encouraging to see some good news related to supply chain. We’ll keep our eyes peeled on unfolding developments.

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