Supply chains all over the world have been disrupted to some point and the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the major causes. In the last two years, the lockdowns have been on and off, which affected companies some of which had no choice but to declare bankruptcy.
The healthcare industry has been hit heavily. At some points during the pandemic, there has been a shortage of COVID tests, vaccines, and treatments. However, the pandemic isn’t the only reason why supply chains get disrupted.
Surprisingly, there has been an ongoing shortage of baby formula. When the evidence of bacterial contamination was found in these products, the authorities had nothing to do but shut down the key manufacturing facility. This facility produced the majority of baby formula and the other companies couldn’t keep up with the demand.
These examples just show what can happen again in the future. This isn’t something that we can estimate, but we can learn from experience. These supply chain shocks may occur, but we might be able to prevent the shortages with proper measures in place.
Supply Chains Becoming More Resilient
Companies and regulators need to take responsibility for improving and monitoring their supply chains. The first step is to assess the vulnerability of a specific supply chain. The second would be to come up with a risk mitigation plan.
Once the plan is in place, it is less likely for a major crisis to occur. At least, the supply chains can be utilized much longer.
Regulatory oversight needs to be increased whereas companies must provide targeted interventions. The examples include technology improvements, stockpiling, sourcing from more reliable suppliers, etc. Speaking of more reliable suppliers, healthcare professionals should consider bttn for procuring essential medical supplies online at wholesale prices.
Creating a list with priorities is crucial to ensure the supply chain is working and that there is no shortage of some essentials. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came out with the list in 2023 that include products such as baby formula, common inactive drug ingredients and drugs such as antipsychotics.
In 2023, the FDA created the Essential Medicines, Medical Countermeasures and Critical Inputs list as a response to Trump’s August 2020 Executive Order. The order directed the FDA to develop a list in face of “outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) threats.”
Luckily, President Biden understood the importance of this step and continued to work on it. He issued a February 2023 Executive Order that directed assessments of critical supply chains and included some other potential events such as “extreme weather events, terrorist attacks, geopolitical and economic competition, and other conditions.”
In spite of lists and priorities, the baby formula shortage indicates that there are some other issues regarding the supply chains. The recent approaches to determine what matter and what not distort solutions and fail to recognize the full scope of public health.
It is not that the list shouldn’t exist, it is that there’s more to it than we think. If we continue to use this narrow approach for the potential future pandemics, we are bound to face another chain supply shortage soon, especially if those are used as a response to infectious diseases and chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats.
As we said, the essential medical supplies list was updated and that was a good thing. In addition to baby formula, there are other products which shortage would spark up a crisis.
The National Academies report displays the three elements that we must consider when we select products for resilience building initiatives.
- The estimated harm from a product shortage
- The scale of a potential shortage
- The percentage that particular product may go into shortage
Considering these three things would greatly improve the government’s response to the future crisis or a pandemic.
With the upgraded essential medical supplies list and the plan when to react and what to keep delivering, we are almost getting to a long-term healthcare solution. In order to avoid the shortage escalating into a crisis, the list needs to contain some other items. Instead of just putting individual products such as baby formula, we should also include inactive ingredients that are used in these products as well.
According to NIH DailyMed, there are exactly 26,709 drug products that contain Microcrystalline cellulose. A severe shortage in the supply of Microcrystalline cellulose could have a negative effect on millions of patients, considering that 26,709 drugs could not be manufactured. What the companies and regulatory bodies need to do is estimate the chances of this product going into shortage, but also evaluate scale and see the potential harm. Basically, to go through the three points that the National Academies outlined in the report.
Furthermore, the government needs to consider some other products and substances and the potential of their shortage and how that could affect people around the country. For example, the lack of mood stabilizers, antipsychotic agents or any other psychotropic medications could severely endanger people with mental illness. They would become less stable, and potentially destroy their lives and the lives of others.
The bottom line
The essential medical supply lists that are created are definitely a step forward in the right direction. The baby formula crisis and the supply chain crisis are showing the loopholes that we have in our system. At least, we are aware of them now and we are working to fix them.
However, the entire process must not fall on the FDA solely because they wouldn’t be able to carry everything out. This must be a coordinated effort between the government, companies and the regulatory bodies and each of these entities must take their share of responsibility. With coordinated action, there is much more chance to prevent the next chain supply crisis no matter what the product is. The deeply experienced team at the Center for Breakthrough Medicines (CBM) is our greatest asset – and yours too.