Distributors Leading the Way in the Next Phase of COVID-19

December 04, 2020

Since the emergence of COVID-19, HDA distributor members have worked tirelessly to navigate the exceptional and unprecedented demands of this public health emergency. From managing unique inventory demands of the first hotspots, to ensuring access to emerging treatment options and testing, HDA members draw upon their extensive supply and distribution networks, logistics expertise and experience navigating public health emergencies. Moreover, distributors are committed to the public- and private-sector partnerships that are critical in combating COVID-19, fueling our recovery and improving pandemic resiliency for the future.

As the country moves closer to realizing an approved COVID-19 vaccine, how are distributors partnering in this highly coordinated response?

Turning Vaccines into Vaccinations

As previously reported, the federal government exercised its existing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) contract option to designate McKesson, an HDA member company, the centralized distributor of COVID-19 vaccines once they are approved by the FDA. The company served in this role during the H1N1 pandemic, and like then, will distribute vaccines to point-of-care settings across the country at the CDC’s direction.

To administer COVID-19 vaccines, healthcare providers will need access to certain critical “ancillary supplies,” such as needles, syringes and face masks, which have faced sourcing challenges during the pandemic. To proactively address potential supply issues, the CDC has directed McKesson to distribute (in parallel with vaccines) the related administration supplies to vaccination sites across the country.

While one of the vaccine candidates, manufactured by Pfizer, is expected to reach administration points outside of the federal government’s distribution infrastructure due to the vaccine’s unique, ultra-cold chain storage and handling requirements, the CDC also will furnish the ancillary supplies necessary to administer this vaccine.

Supporting Independent Community Pharmacies’ Access to COVID-19 Treatments

CDC recently announced that HDA members AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, among other organizations, will serve as network administrators in the Federal Pharmacy Partnership Strategy for COVID-19, enabling them to place orders with the CDC on behalf of their independent, small chain and long-term care pharmacies and ensuring their participation in the vaccination effort.

Independent pharmacists are some of the most accessible healthcare providers in their communities. Understanding this, distributors will use their scale, logistics expertise, long-standing relationships and pharmacy networks to ensure providers have secure access to new vaccines and support the nationwide distribution network, once there is adequate supply beyond initial critical populations.

Managing the Strategic National Stockpile, Distributing Novel Treatments

Additionally, distributors have continued to support the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) in its role supplementing state and local supplies during COVID-19 and previous public health emergencies.

HDA member AmerisourceBergen is taking those efforts further, working directly with the SNS to store, manage and distribute medicines and other healthcare supplies. The company is helping restructure and resupply the stockpile so that there are enough medicines in the event of future COVID-19 surges or other public health crises.

These efforts build on AmerisourceBergen’s work with the Department of Health and Human Services as the sole U.S. distributor of remdesivir, bamlanivimab and casirivimab and imdevimab for treatment of COVID-19.

Planning for Wider Distribution of Vaccines and Therapeutics

As we have learned over the course of the pandemic, the healthcare resources that we need today may be very different tomorrow. What we do know for sure is that the intense demand for approved vaccines will require extensive coordination across the entire pharmaceutical supply chain — both now, with the focus on healthcare providers, and as production scales up to reach communities of all sizes across the nation.

The commercial supply chain is safe, efficient and reliable. The distribution industry is in the unique position of having the know-how, previous experience and ability to quickly mobilize in this large-scale public health effort. HDA’s 35 members — comprising large companies with national footprints to smaller, regional organizations — cover the entire U.S. and have established relationships with federal agencies and closely coordinate with state public health departments.

To build additional safeguards into the government’s current distribution plan, HDA’s members should be included now to participate in contingency planning, so no time is lost if, as anticipated, a potential surge in demand calls for further logistics expertise to help ensure Americans across the country have access to COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.

For additional HDA materials and pandemic response resources, visit our website.