At Pfizer, a global approach to supply chain is crucial, one of the company's senior vice presidents says.
In the U.S. pharmaceutical sector, supply chain resiliency is not achieved through concentrating all manufacturing capabilities in the country, a top Pfizer executive said yesterday during a webcast held by The Brookings Institution.
Supply chain resiliency has been a hot topic during the coronavirus pandemic. Shortages of medical supplies and medications such as personal protective equipment have sparked debate on whether more medical products should be produced domestically.
Pfizer's capacity to produce an unprecedented supply of COVID-19 vaccine in a short period of time was the result of a global supply chain, not just investments in the United States and Europe, said Tanya Alcorn, senior vice president as well as biotech and sterile injectables operations lead at Pfizer.
"In order to make those vaccines, we needed hundreds of materials from more than 80 suppliers that were located in about 20 different countries. That is why the idea of onshoring may make us feel better, but it is not the answer. Having agreements that incentivize governments to play together in a fair way to allow for trust and free movement of goods is the way you get to resiliency, not trying to bring everything into one country because one country cannot solve it all," she said.
Pfizer achieves risk mitigation and supply chain resilience through several methods, Alcorn said.
"As a manufacturing organization, we are constantly assessing risk and resiliency. We are assessing risk whether it is war as we have seen in Ukraine or natural disasters. So, we think about risk in a lot of different ways, and we are constantly looking at ways to mitigate risk. We do it through scale, through redundancy of suppliers, through inventory management, and not relying on one supplier in one country. We diversify our supply chain. For us, diversification is key as well as building a trust relationship with suppliers and encouraging governments to allow the free flow of materials," she said.
When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, building production facilities in developing countries would not have solved those countries' vaccine access challenges, Alcorn said. "What we have learned through our experience working with developing nations is putting a plant in the country is not the answer. It may make us feel better, but it is not the answer. We have found that one of the primary barriers is infrastructure. So, the infrastructure that surrounds the storage, distribution, and administration of vaccines was more of the barrier."
In some developing countries, Pfizer used drone technology to address the vaccine access challenge, she said. "We created a packaging that allowed our vaccine to be drone shipped and dropped into villages. That is how we expanded access. It was successful versus if we built a plant in the country, which would not have solved the fundamental access problem."
At Pfizer, a global approach to supply chain is crucial, Alcorn said. "Pfizer is all about giving access to as many patients as possible to our medicines and vaccines. The way that we do that is through trust, partnership, and scale. Not one country can do it alone. You need many countries and many partners. You need the private sector and governments all playing nicely together."
Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care editor at HealthLeaders.
To make its COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer used hundreds of materials from more than 80 suppliers that were located in about 20 different countries.
To operate an efficient global supply chain, governments must agree to allow a free flow of goods across their borders.
In developing countries, infrastructure problems such as distribution capacity have been a key barrier to providing access to COVID-19 vaccines.