Changing Business as Usual to Improve Immunization Supply Chains

The 15th TechNet Conference in Cascais, Portugal brought together a global network of immunization professionals—managers of national immunization programs, vaccine and cold chain equipment manufacturers, representatives from public health agencies, development partners, and funders—around the theme “building the next generation of immunization supply chains.”

But it wasn’t only the exciting technologies highlighted during the week, like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and 2D barcodes that integrate a VVM indicator, that were groundbreaking. Rather it was the openness to changing business as usual for the immunization supply chain (iSC).

Among the most poignant statements of the week, made by John Lloyd, one of the original ‘fathers’ of EPI and the iSC, was “question the dogmas that were set up more than 30 years ago.” He explained that things are different today with new technologies, vaccines, and new challenges to the iSC. We, as partners working in the iSC, must also adapt and be willing to question the status quo in order to bring about improvements, increase access to potent vaccines, and ultimately increase coverage rates. As the wordle developed collaboratively on the final day of the conference illustrates, innovation prominently featured as a topic of discussion. 

New technologies can serve as entry points to this change. When a government considers delivering its vaccines via UAV, it opens the conversation about how to optimize the delivery of vaccines more broadly, even without UAVs. Tools like network analysis can help shape this thinking about how to more efficiently and dependably deliver vaccines, related consumables, and other health products.

Immunization programs have long operated vertical supply chains that are entirely separate from other pharmaceutical distribution systems. However, there is increasing recognition that iSC can improve efficiency and performance while sharing costs by engaging other health programs, supply chains, and other stakeholders in the health system. One poignant suggestion is that ‘integration’ should be retired and ‘interoperability’ taken up—finding context-specific and appropriate ways to better leverage resources and linkages between supply chains.

Finally, the general theme of collective impact was woven throughout the week, recognizing that bringing about improvements to the iSC cannot be done alone. We must work together to move forward the priorities as determined by Ministries of Health and EPI decision makers.

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