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Pfizer Reducing Risk of Supply Chain Disruptions Through Scale

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   May 03, 2023

Pfizer Global Supply features 36 manufacturing sites, 11 distribution and logistics centers, and 31,000 manufacturing and distribution workers.

Scale is a primary way Pfizer has been rising to supply chain challenges during the coronavirus pandemic and as the crisis phase of the pandemic has passed, says Martina Ryall, vice president for strategy and operational excellence at Pfizer Global Supply.

The pandemic disrupted healthcare supply chains around the world. In the early stage of the pandemic, health systems and hospitals struggled to secure essential supplies such as personal protective equipment.

Pfizer has an impressive supply chain scale, Ryall says. "Today, Pfizer Global Supply consists of 36 manufacturing sites, 11 distribution and logistics centers, and 31,000 manufacturing and distribution colleagues who essentially enable supply to patients around the world. On an annual basis, we supply more than 50 billion doses across 180 countries, and we have hundreds of partnerships with manufacturing organizations and suppliers."

Scale allows Pfizer to minimize supply chain risk, she says. "One of the primary ways that we are reducing the risk of supply chain disruptions is through scale. We scale our operations and diversify our network. For example, we use multiple suppliers to minimize the risk of supply interruptions for essential medicines. So, instead of relying on a few suppliers in a particular region, we have a broader ecosystem or web around the world."

Supply chain resiliency is a top goal for Pfizer, Ryall says. "We are building in resiliency by establishing parallel supply chains through the United States and Europe. We also go to the traditional levers as well—implementing inventory management strategies that support thoughtful and purposeful over-production in certain areas of essential medicines. We also have a workforce that we can scale and flex depending on the need."

Supply chain lessons learned from the pandemic

The pandemic presented challenges and opportunities for Pfizer's supply chain, she says. "During the pandemic, one of the key things was being able to leverage our speed, our scale, and our science. However, the pandemic has shown us that so much remains outside of our control. Rather than try to navigate all of the volatility, our teams try their best to act proactively. One of the things that we learned was that while volatility may be disruptive, it is also a catalyst for us to engineer new and innovative ways of doing our work."

Pfizer's supply chain had to navigate chaos and complexity during the pandemic, Ryall says. "While it was uncomfortable, it did force us to grow in directions that we may not have dreamt of otherwise. We started to see a lot of new opportunities and better ways to get to our patients. Embracing that chaos and volatility is part of our "light speed" culture through which we have evolved operations to move with speed, eliminate unnecessary work, and trust each other to make decisions so we can get breakthroughs to the patients."

The pandemic has driven change in Pfizer's supply chain, she says. "We have learned that we could put in place nimble structures and a network of trusted and reliable suppliers. We had teams of interconnected problem solvers. We also harnessed digital tools—they are becoming a critical part of our manufacturing supply chains. In the past two years, digital technologies have enabled tremendous improvement in our service and cycle times because you can see the data. So, we are putting all of those learnings into practice."

Embracing drone deliveries

Drones have been an "exciting endeavor" for Pfizer, Ryall says. "It has given us access to remote locations that we were never able to get to before. We have partnered with Zipline. It has been a fantastic partnership that has enabled us to deliver to many remote areas during the pandemic. One of the first countries for the partnership was Ghana. We were able to reach communities in Ghana with poor road access—there were geographic features that impeded our traditional distribution methods."

Drone deliveries are part of Pfizer's long-term supply chain strategy, she says. "Drones were something that we were already working on before the pandemic, but the pandemic amplified drones as a method of delivery. Rather than it being a one-off method of delivery, drone shipments are something that we want to embrace and embed as one of our methods of reaching patients. Zipline is a pioneer in delivering medical products in remote areas, and we want to advance this partnership to other remote areas of the world. Drones are here to stay, and they will grow in terms of use."

Related: Pfizer Executive on Supply Chain: 'One Country Cannot Solve It All'

Christopher Cheney is the CMO editor at HealthLeaders.


Pfizer uses multiple suppliers to minimize the risk of supply interruptions for essential medicines.

Pfizer has embraced a "light speed" culture, which includes evolving operations to move with speed and eliminating unnecessary work.

Drone deliveries are part of Pfizer's long-term supply chain strategy.

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