Supply chain & logistics

Track and trace

There’s nothing like a pandemic for demonstrating the necessity for serialisation, interoperability, and more advanced analytics and tracking. Tim Gunn asks Rob Handfi eld, the executive director of the Supply Chain Resource Cooperative at North Carolina State University, Mark Treshock, IBM’s global solution leader for blockchain in healthcare and life sciences, and Shawn Muma, technology research leader for the Digital Supply Chain Institute, what the supply chain might look like once this is all over.

gain and again over the past year, failures to track the spread of SARS-CoV-2 have brought suffering and death. ‘Test and trace’ doesn’t have nearly the same gravity as that grim pair but, before the vaccines, it was the closest thing to an opposite anyone could fashion. Some did it much better than others. Vaccination, being one of humanity’s signature achievements, carries a bit more imaginative heft, but it won’t remove the need for strong Covid-19 testing regimes for a while yet. In fact, the biggest pharmaceutical supply operation ever undertaken wouldn’t be possible without the same type of thinking – with one slight twist. Whereas test and trace enables authorities to stop the virus by locating and isolating infections, fast and effective vaccine distribution depends on the ability to locate and transfer supplies. The parallels don’t end there. Test and trace schemes, tied to lockdowns and quarantines, only work when individuals accept limits on their freedom. Similarly, for Mark Treshock, IBM’s global solution leader for blockchain in healthcare and life sciences, and Rob Handfield, the executive director of the Supply Chain Resource Cooperative at North Carolina

A World Pharmaceutical Frontiers /

State University, distributing vaccines means expanding the definition of a public utility. Handfield’s utilities are the vaccines themselves. At the Covid-19 vaccine manufacturing summit hosted by Chatham House in March 2021, he proposed building a global visibility system that could provide the key information on supply and demand to a third-party adjudicator or control tower like the WTO. This would act as a “traffic cop”, directing flows of materials to and from different parts of the world, depending on their requirements and manufacturing capacities. “People have to think more holistically,” he explains. “The vaccine should be a utility. It’s not a matter of competitive advantage anymore, or intellectual property. This vaccine is here to stay, and unless we are able to get it out to every country in the world quickly, we’re going to continue to get variants and we’re going to continue to have shortfalls.” On the other side, a global visibility system would help drug companies avoid the overproduction issues that have left PPE suppliers with mountains of excess stock. Even so, Handfield fears that private companies are unlikely to share information on their inventory and production, much less give a third party the authority


Radu Bercan; Kirill Mlayshev; Ahmad Haerudin; A Aleksii; rudvi; VoodooDot/

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