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The COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Chain
Must Be Resilient to Flooding

COVID-19 has revealed a major vulnerability in our supply chains, here and abroad. From the disrupted food supply to the major medical device shortages we’ve seen, the pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge of meeting critical demands amid dangerous production conditions.

But public health crises aren’t supply chains’ only blind spot. Catastrophic weather events also pose a disruption threat to manufacturing operations everywhere. And the rising global threat of climate change will only make devastating flooding a more common occurrence. 

At the same time, governments around the world are preparing for the production of a COVID-19 vaccine. If we want a vaccine by January 2021, those supply chains will need to be resilient to flooding.

Global Supply Chains Are Only as Strong as the Weakest Link

Many U.S. companies rely on long international supply chains for manufacturing. That means climate disaster risk isn’t only limited to operations on American soil.

Take the 2011 floods in Thailand for example. When the country was hit with the worst rains in a half a century, the floods’ impacts were felt around the world. Dozens of international corporations including the likes of Honda, Nippon Steel, and Canon had to reduce and delay production in Asia and halt shipment abroad. Honda, Nissan, and Toyota each lost hundreds of thousands of cars. 

Only recently, China experienced extensive flooding in its coronavirus epicenter, Wuhan. The Yangtze River’s water levels reach their fourth highest in recorded history, displacing millions of residents and disrupting China’s personal protective equipment (PPE) supply to the U.S., an export that has helped U.S. hospital workers tremendously.

Global supply chains have been derailed by flooding in the past, and as climate change raises the frequency of all kinds of natural disasters, it’s likely that it will happen again.

Curious if climate change has increased the flood risk in your area? Check your risk now.

A COVID-19 Vaccine Supply Chain Must Take Flooding into Account

In addition to the specific conditions needed for a large-scale distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, supply chains must have contingency plans for flooding. 

Back in April, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Operation Warp Speed, an accelerated timeline of development, manufacturing, and distribution of 300 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Since then, HHS has identified a number of promising vaccine candidates. But successful development still hinges on successful manufacturing and distribution to execute on schedule.

Pharmaceutical companies must build vaccine supply chains within parameters never before seen in the drug industry. Distributing millions of vaccines over such a short period will demand a major increase in air capacity, ground handling personnel, and specialized equipment. Doses must also be kept in a fixed temperature range to maintain the vaccine’s efficacy, which requires the use of refrigerated containers and special handling procedures at all times.

It’s possible that vaccine production begins during the end of the 2020 hurricane season. A serious flood would threaten all of these processes, from distribution channels to storage equipment. But sufficient planning can mitigate that threat. 

Flood-Resilient Supply Chains Need Visibility and Agility

Manufacturing companies must be strategic when managing all risks involved in a global supply chain, and climate risks can never go ignored.

A Columbia University study on the 2011 Thailand floods outlines two key factors for supply chain resilience that pharmaceutical companies producing a COVID-19 vaccine should prioritize: 

  • Visibility. Companies must be aware of a manufacturing or distribution facility’s vulnerabilities, especially those in flood-prone areas.
  • Agility. The presence of any supply chain vulnerabilities indicate companies should pursue supplier substitutes and maximize portability of goods in the case of a disaster.

Multisourcing and geographic manufacturing network diversification are all-around best practices for supply chain resilience. In this case, COVID-19 manufacturers will need to expand beyond single sources of supply to prevent widespread disruption in the event of flooding.

Increased visibility of flood risk is a good idea for homeowners, too. Find out the flood risk of your property.

Flood Protection Happens Both on a Global and Individual Scale

Flooding intersects with just about any societal issue imaginable, which means it impacts critical processes on a global scale just as much as it impacts individual homeowners. At the same time COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers have a responsibility to take flood risk into account, Americans need to understand their flood risk to better protect their homes and communities.

There’s another thing that international supply chains and individuals have in common: flood risk for everyone is fluid and increasing. From rising sea levels to more frequent flash floods to poor dam infrastructure, more and more Americans are at a higher risk than they think, making them underprepared for flood damage.

Getting familiar with your community’s flood risk is a good place to start. Head to our Intro to Flood resource page to learn all you need to know about flood safety.

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