The New Vaccine Rollout: Will It Work?

Our look—from a supply chain perspective—at President Biden’s “unprecedented” vaccination plan.

In a paradox that only COVID-19 could inspire, the success of President Biden’s new vaccination rollout plan hinges on the government’s ability to eliminate bureaucratic red tape along the supply chain.

At its core, the new plan, which aims to administer 100 million vaccine shots in 100 days, moves from a largely decentralized and local rollout to a centralized and federalized national distribution plan. The plan calls for an increase in vaccine production, a widening of people who can receive the shot, and hiring more healthcare workers to administer it at a range of locations. Dustin Ogden, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Chief Supply Chain and Operations Officers practice, says the coordination and communication among the public and private sectors is unprecedented on this scale—at least from a supply chain perspective. “It’s a Rubik’s Cube of supply chain complexity,” he says.

To be sure, thus far, the vaccination effort has been marred by confusion over access, inconsistent dosing guidelines, inefficient storage and distribution, and insufficient supply, among other issues. “All of these areas have to match up and come together with as little red tape as possible to get vaccines moving at a rapid pace,” Ogden says.

As ironic as it may seem, a nationalized approach is the best way to create the uniformity and flexibility needed to kick the supply chain into high gear, says Cheryl D’Cruz-Young, leader of Korn Ferry’s Chief Procurement Officer Center of Expertise. She points to the United Kingdom’s centralized National Healthcare Service as part of the reason for the success that country is having in vaccinating its population—the UK currently ranks fourth in terms of the percentage of people vaccinated. Though the UK is obviously much smaller than the US in both size and population, D’Cruz-Young says US vaccination program leaders can look at what has been working in the UK and elsewhere and apply it to new rollout plans.

Moreover, she draws a parallel between where the vaccine program is now and the supply chain issues surrounding the production of ventilators, masks, and other personal protective equipment during the pandemic’s early stages. In April, then-President Trump used the Defense Production Act to direct supplies to a select group of companies to ramp up ventilator production and procure masks. “If you look back at the various hurdle points of the crisis last year, it took a coordinated federal response from a supply chain point of view to get what was lacking,” says D’Cruz-Young.

It’s no coincidence then that President Biden is reportedly looking at ways to use the Defense Production Act again to accelerate production of the vaccine itself, as well as the bottles, syringes, and other components needed for its delivery. Vaccine production, however, is not as simple as reconfiguring assembly lines to make ventilators, and the government’s intervention in that regard might not only be highly disruptive to supply but also potentially misplaced.

Rather, where a federal response is most needed is in helping to solve liability issues or getting more people licensed and trained in administering the vaccine, Ogden says. He cites how states early in the pandemic waived laws requiring doctors who conduct virtual healthcare visits to be licensed in the patient’s state, thus allowing any doctor to treat any patient, and says similarly creative solutions are needed for deploying the vaccine. “It isn’t the ability to create the vaccine that is the problem—it’s getting it to the right people at the right place at the right time,” he says.