Opinion

With COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments Approved, America Must Now Embrace Its Supply Chain to Distribute Them

When COVID-19 was detected in America early last year, the ensuing pandemic tested the strength and brilliance of our scientific and medical community. Our scientists and medical professionals produced multiple effective vaccines in less than one year.

With vaccines now available at a previously unimaginable speed, the United States must now similarly turn to the advantages and capabilities found in its existing supply chain in the quest to distribute vaccines near the pace of their creation. Over decades, the distribution industry has developed the world’s leading network, knowledge, technology and logistics expertise to efficiently and safely move products across the country.  With our assistance, the government can create a much larger and efficient network of vaccinators, quickly reaching more people in all areas of the United States.

Wholesaler-distributors’ role is to keep the supply chain moving in good times and bad, distributing materials, goods and services to every corner of the country. In just the medical sector of the economy, our national network distributes medicine and other vaccines to 500,000 pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, physicians’ and dental offices, first responders and nursing homes every day — according to member companies.

As the pandemic spread last spring, America’s supply chain rose to the occasion to meet unprecedented challenges and overcome massive economic disruption. When quarantines were ordered last March, the economy was turned on its head virtually overnight, leaving Americans to wonder whether they’d have access to food, medicines, cleaning supplies and more. While many Americans sheltered at home, distributors went to work and kept the supply chain moving, ensuring grocery stores, pharmacies, health providers and businesses were restocked quickly and safely.

When hospitals were at capacity with COVID-19 patients and millions of Americans nervously searched for a way to safely get tested, distributors worked night and day to move life-saving treatments and health care products across the country. They helped set up temporary hospitals and testing facilities – supplying the tents, plastic shields, generators, furniture and material to meet the exploding need.

When businesses across America suddenly needed personal protective equipment so their employees could safely return to work, distributors kept the economy going and countless millions employed by distributing masks, gloves, sanitizer and other materials to keep them safe.

As 2020 mercifully came to a close, the medical and scientific communities delivered the impossible – multiple safe vaccines effective at stopping COVID-19 in its tracks. They did their jobs superbly, giving us all hope. The massive challenge now is quickly and continuously distributing the vaccines to every corner of the nation until this pandemic is eradicated.  The wholesaler-distribution industry is ready. As we’ve shown in the past year, this is what we do best.  In partnership with the nation’s world-class transportation carriers, we have the technology, cold storage capacity, knowledge, existing network and decades of experience needed to meet this moment. The entire system chain must be leveraged now to surge COVID vaccine distribution.

As President Joe Biden and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention consider how best to quickly and safely get the vaccines into our communities in the weeks and months ahead, we encourage them to embrace America’s distribution network. We applaud the recent announcement that the government will begin supplying pharmacies that are a part of the federal program directly with vaccines.

This is a good step but will reach only a fraction of the 500,000 pharmacies and health care providers the distribution industry serves every day. We encourage the Biden administration to put us to work alongside the couriers and government networks they are using now. With all hands on deck, we can overcome COVID-19, save lives and move toward a world where businesses are open and growing, kids are thriving in schools, and families and friends are together once more.

 

Eric Hoplin is the president and CEO of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors.

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