It‘s the Supply Chain, stupid! 

Andreas Kemmner

A polemical “analysis” of the vaccine supply chain with a surprising insight

Sometimes, special events help to realize how important professional supply chain management is. Industry and commerce have had to experience this time and again during the months of the Corona pandemic, and have coped with it to some extent. A particularly drastic example of poor supply chain management is currently being provided by the EU Commission and the German government; although there is much to suggest that the situation is no better in most other European countries.

The missing vaccine doses, at least in the first quarter, have probably caused greater, possibly irreparable damage to the EU’s image among its approximately 450 million customers (= citizens) than any other decision ever made by the EU (weak points 1-3: delivery capability screwed up; purchasing paid too much attention to procurement prices instead of focusing on the total costs of ownership; too little SCM competence at the top management level and therefore underestimated strategic importance of supply chain management).

Despite low vaccine volumes, German administrations seem overwhelmed with getting them distributed quickly and into customers’ arms (weakness 4: On-time delivery screwed up)

There does not appear to be sufficiently coordinated scheduling across the federal government’s entire vaccine supply chain to vaccination centers and physicians (weaknesses 5 and 6: no centralized scheduling; proven supply chains, in this case those for pharmaceuticals, ignored). The number of administrative rules to be considered, from data protection to whether a vaccinating physician at the vaccination center may give an order to a pharmacist there to dispense more vaccine doses from a jar, is so large that no one can keep track of them (weaknesses 7-9: no lean processes; no lean management; no adaptation of procedural instructions to the changing situation). All it takes is one of the many department heads in the long process chain of the vaccination supply chain to make a mistake or narrow-mindedly insist on a nonsensical procedural instruction to disrupt the process (weaknesses 10 and 11: no central leadership in a critical supply situation; “over the wall approach” instead of error correction culture).

Every immunization center, every health department does what it wants and there seems to be little willingness to learn from the better performers (weaknesses 12 and 13: no benchmarking of supply chain management; no CIP).

The situation continues in customer order entry: servers for vaccination appointment allocation are overloaded; vaccination figures are reported with delays or incorrectly; too many receipts and these on paper to boot (weak point 14: drastic backlog in digitization). One year after the start of the pandemic, many public health departments are still working with fax machines (weakness 15: A too far-reaching culture of consensus instead of pushing through necessary measures in the face of a disruptive situation).

Gloating, anger and know-it-all attitude are good for the soul at times. But they shouldn’t cloud the view that the 15 weaknesses we’ve identified apply one-to-one to many companies as well….

Image by Tumisu on Pixabay


Andreas Kemmner

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Prof. Dr Kemmner has carried out well over 150 national and international projects in over 25 years of consultancy work in supply chain management and reorganisation.In 2012, he was appointed honorary professor for logistics and supply chain management by the WHZ.The results of his projects have already received several awards.

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