In 2020, the pharmaceutical supply chain faced one of its biggest global challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic pushed manufacturers, distributors, governments and healthcare facilities to their limits. The goal? To develop a vaccine and then get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Advanced monitoring and analysis technology has enabled more than 13 billion COVID-19 vaccinations to be distributed worldwide to date.

As factors including population growth and competition continue to make global pharmaceutical supply chains increasingly complex, the lessons learned from this huge scale-up effort will shape the way we manage the supply chain moving forwards.

We deep dive into what it takes meet the challenges that come with executing the world’s largest vaccine programme.

Challenge 1: End-to-end visibility

A lack of traceability in pharmaceutical supply chains means that information on product location and condition is often unavailable to manufacturers, distributors and at the final point-of-use, meaning decision-makers can’t make informed decisions in real time. In complex supply chains involving many different service providers, traceability becomes an even greater challenge.

Real-time, 24/7 monitoring solutions enable internal and external control towers to follow every shipment, facilitating end-to-end visibility from origin sites to vaccination locations. Environmental information, including time, temperature and light events, is captured by IoT devices and managed by a cloud analytics platform. Operators can look at a screen at any given moment and know the exact location and condition of  a shipment, enabling faster, more informed decision-making, as well as continuous optimization. Integrated logistics and quality data is documented automatically, and operators can spend less time chasing status, progress and performance data from multiple sources.

The ability to track shipments in real time and automate processes and alerts transforms the role of supply chain managers from fundamentally reactive to proactive. With total visibility and advanced automation, they can streamline operations and ensure seamless continuity, while monitor and response teams make decisions in real time based on actionable insights, boosting the responsiveness and resilience of the supply chain.

Challenge 2: Embracing automation

While many industries have begun to recognise the advanced capabilities that come with digital transformation, the pharmaceutical industry is typically conservative, with operators still relying on highly manual processes.

The increasing complexity of modern supply chains demands a new depth of collaboration between manufacturers, distributors, LSPs, governments and healthcare facilities, and the pharmaceutical industry needs to embrace the potential of digitalisation in order to compete, adapt and thrive. Digitalization turns real-time data into value-rich, actionable analytics, integrating ERPs, control towers, QMS and other platforms, and reducing human handling.

In supply chains involving 10,000s of point-of-use destinations and stakeholders distributed across the world, one-to-one communications are not sufficient. In an ever-changing environment, more robust and scalable communications solutions are required. Automated communications provide multiple parties with real-time alerts, as well as access to historical, live and predictive analytics data. This enables smart workflows and allows stakeholders to achieve greater resilience, responsiveness and sustainability, ultimately increasing successful outcomes.

Effective data sharing can enable the automation of quality documentation, release processes and stability budgets. It can also continue to be scaled, with the integration of additional data points and devices.

Challenge 3: Minimising waste

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 25-50% of vaccines were wasted due to cold chain issues. Errors including delays and temperature excursions can have significant public health and financial consequences, leading to unsafe products, liability issues, and costly rejections. Using real-time monitoring technology, Pfizer achieved less than 0.1% product loss for its COVID-19 vaccines.

Pfizer is a global leader in Covid-19 vaccination development and distribution and more than 5 billion doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been administered to date, with digitalised traceability driving huge efficiencies. Automated, onsite monitoring can enable swift, effective corrective action in various scenarios that would require escalation, such as delays, mistakes and border issues. By providing pertinent real-time information and alerts automatically to multiple parties, digitalisation reduces supply-chain related product loss, tampering and spoilage.

Better decision-making, fewer investigations and shorter product release and packing times can lead to fewer delays, damages, rejections, write-offs and in-market product shortages, along with their associated costs. This reduces the need to transport replacement products and the use of plastics and other raw materials for logger production, enabling operators to work towards a sustainable circular economy and zero-waste supply chain.

Lessons learned

The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the vulnerabilities of existing supply chain systems, but it also accelerated the adoption of transformative technologies including real-time data and cloud-enabled analytics. With its digitally enabled cold chain service, Pfizer achieved a 99.9% successful delivery rate.

As supply chains become more complex and patient populations rise, increased levels of automation, visibility and transparency will continue to improve supply chain sustainability, security and scalability. Resilient pharma companies using advanced technologies and embracing digital transformation will be better equipped to adapt and thrive.

Download the whitepaper on this page to find out more.