Paul Dickson, president of wholesale pharmaceutical distributor Morris & Dickson Co. LLC, describes efforts to allocate limited supplies of the antiviral drug remdesivir during the coronavirus pandemic.
The liquid version of remdesivir is a cold-chain product, presenting challenges in distributing it widely and safely. In addition, there were limited supplies of the drug available for possible treatment of COVID-19, necessitating strict allocation to all 50 states by the Department of Health and Human Services. Many lacked refrigerated capability and experience in handling perishable medications.
Morris & Dickson responded to a request from the State of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) to assist in distribution. It transported product from its receiving point to DHH through its own cold-chain facilities, from which the drug was then distributed to Louisiana hospitals.
While demand for remdesivir exceeded supply, the existing commercial distribution network was able to efficiently manage shipments to targeted destinations. “The pharmaceutical supply chain worked very well,” Dickson says. He believes that network is best suited for handling drug distribution, even in a crisis where supplies are limited and operations must be scaled up sharply to meet sudden demand. “If we try to step outside the system,” he says, “we’re reinventing a supply chain that works quite well.”
Decisions on where to ship drugs in a health crisis are made with the aid of an allocation algorithm. The calculation is based on where similar orders have been shipped before, with the biggest historical buyers receiving the highest volumes.
Health emergencies can provide lessons to even the most seasoned supply chains. “All distributors have to fine-tune their ability to respond,” says Dickson. “It’s integral to supply-chain management to develop a system that smoothly handles everyday demand, but can also identify other-than-normal [situations].”
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