The Supply Chain Matters blog continues with our bi-weekly summary capsule of news developments that have implications for various industry supply chains.

We provide this feature to assist our readers in their efforts to keep updated on noteworthy developments. For reference, our previous capsule update was published on December 19, 2020.

COVID-19 Industry Supply Chain News

Developments Included in this update:

COVID-19 Coronavirus Global Wide Status Update

Third and Possible Fourth COVID-19 Vaccine

Vaccine Administration Rates Vary

Vaccine Producers Adjust Production Schedules

Shortages of Liquid Oxygen Apparatus


Global Deaths Attributed to COVID-19 Coronavirus Nearing 1.9 Million

According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, since the first data was recorded by Johns Hopkins earlier this year, global wide COVID-19 infections have now surpassed 85.6 million positive cases, an increase of 9.8 million since our last bi-weekly update. The top five countries for infection rates remains essentially the same with the exception of the addition of the United Kingdom in the number 5 ranking:

United States          20.8 million cases

India                         10.3 million cases

Brazil                        7.8 million cases

Russia                        3.2 million cases

United Kingdom       2.7 million cases


The global death toll attributed to this virus now exceeds 1.85 million victims.

The United States continues to lead and trend upwards. The top five countries with reported deaths remain:

  1. United States 353,069   (an increase of 39,085 since our last update)
  2. Brazil 196,561   (an increase of 10,911 since our last update)
  3. India 149,649   (an increase of 4513 since our last update)
  4. Mexico 127,213   (an increase of 9964 since our last update)
  5. Italy 75,680   (an increase of 7233 since our last update)

Daily infection and hospitalization rates across the United States continue at record high levels with added influxes as a result of travel and social grouping during the Thanksgiving holiday. There are now added concerns related to record levels of air travel and socialization during the Christmas and New Years holidays.  According to published data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), overall hospitalizations in early December reached the highest levels since the beginning of the pandemic, with California, Arizona and Texas hospitalizations having especially reached record high levels and noted to be a critical care capacity levels by local hospital authorities.

Increasing infection rates across Europe and other continents remain a concern with a special emphasis now centered on the United Kingdom. The new strain of virus that has health officials highly concerned because of a believed 70 percent higher infection rate has now been discovered in several other European countries, India  and in the U.S. A suspected third and more viral mutation of the virus has been reported in South Africa.

Yesterday UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a national lockdown ordering the entire British population to stay at-home until mid-February. Travel restrictions for people traveling the UK have now been imposed by many other global nations.

Italy continues with a total lockdown that extended from December 24 to January 6.


Third and Possible Fourth COVID-19 Vaccine Approved

On December 30, the United Kingdom granted emergency approval for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by the partnership of AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

This development represented the third emergency use approval of a vaccine, including the vaccine developed by Moderna and the National Institute of Health and that of Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.  The emergency use approval was especially significant to the new more contagious variant of the virus now reported across the UK.  Anticipating initial limited supply of this and other available vaccine, British health officials are leaning toward a strategy to vaccinate more people by lengthening the amount of time between first and second doses to a reported 12-week gap, allowing more people to have a basic level of protection.

The government of India announced this weekend that it had granted emergency approval of the AstraZeneca and Oxford University vaccine along with one other developed by Bharat Biotech within the country. According to a report by the Asia Pacific edition of the New York Times, The Serum Institute, an India based drug maker that struck a deal to produce the Oxford vaccine even before its effectiveness had been proven, has managed to make only about one-tenth of the 400 million doses it had committed to manufacturing before the end of the year. A spokesperson for Serum indicated to the publication the biotech producer plans to ramp up manufacturing capacity to 100 million doses per month by February.

One day after the UK conditionally approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, China’s state-owned pharmaceutical company Sinopharm secured approval from Chinese health authorities after reporting a 79 percent efficacy rate in Phase 3 trials. The vaccine has been granted a conditional marketing approval, after reportedly 60,000 volunteers took part in clinical trials within China, Argentina, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, and the UAE.  The Sinopharm vaccine, which requires two doses, utilizes inactivated coronavirus that causes the body to produce antibodies, the more conventional approach to vaccination.


Vaccine Administration Rates Vary

Thus far, priority cold chain and parcel logistics and distribution networks have performed rather well with few glitches in global vaccine distribution. That is not necessarily the case for administration of vaccine at local levels.

Approaching the fourth week of what is often described as the most ambitious logistics and vaccine administration campaign in modern U.S. history, existing inoculation rates are lagging initial planning. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), upwards of 4.6 million persons in the United States have received an initial dose of COVID-19 vaccine thus far. This is far short of the goal federal and state officials set which was to administer to at least 20 million people their initial shots before the end of December.

U.S. government officials indicated yesterday that Operation Warp Speed had delivered more than 15.4 million doses to U.S. states, territories and federal agencies thus far but did not have a clear understanding as to why only a portion of the doses shipped across the nation had been actually vaccinated, especially since this initial phase involves the highest priority of candidates who administer direct healthcare services to COVID-19 patients.  A lot of finger pointing is underway as to why vaccination efforts have been lagging including a lack of logistics, planning and financial resources at state and local levels.

A growing consensus is that overall vaccine administration rates have to dramatically increase, and they will require more federal level coordination and assistance. A further obvious concern is the current planned transitions among the Trump and Biden Administrations that need to occur over the next three weeks. President Elect Biden has set the goal for his designated new team of healthcare policy advisors to initiate actions and support programs: “to be able to administer 100 million doses of vaccine by his 100th day in office.” That will reportedly imply more federal and state level planning and coordination as well as prioritization actions.

In contrast, Axios reports that Israel has administered coronavirus doses to over 10 percent of its population of 9.2 million since it began administering the Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine on December 20. Administering at the rate of 12.59 doses per 100 people, Israel leads the world, followed by Bahrain at 3.53 doses, the United Kingdom at 1.47 doses, and the U.S. at a current rate of 1.28 doses per 100 people. According to reporting by The Washington Post, Israel:“ is delivering shots so quickly that it is outstripping its supply of vaccine.

The country has been able to do so because of a smaller population and the existence of a national healthcare network, similar to the United Kingdom. The country also maintains a national vaccination registry, initially designed for childhood vaccinations, that is utilized to monitor immediate and long-term progress of the coronavirus vaccine program. According to the BBC, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated the country “could emerge from the pandemic as early as February” as it delivers doses to some 150,000 people per day.


Vaccine Producers Adjust Production Schedules to Accommodate Growing Demand

Vaccine producers Pfizer and Moderna continue to adjust expected production levels to accommodate changing global and domestic vaccine demand needs among specific government procurement agencies.

This week Moderna indicated that the biotech maker will increase its COVID-19 vaccine production minimum threshold number by 20 percent to 600 million doses. With a goal to produce up to one billion doses in 2021, the vaccine maker is reportedly planning to ship to the United States, 100 million doses of the vaccine by the end of March and an additional 100 million doses by June. The U.S. government reportedly contracted for 200 million doses of the Moderna vaccine with an option of an additional 300 million doses.

The founders of Pfizer partner BioNTech have reportedly told the German publication Spiegel that this vaccine maker is working flat out with partner Pfizer to be able to boost production of its vaccine for needs across Germany but warned of gaps in supply until other vaccines are rolled out. The European Union was late to grant approval to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and delays in rolling out a home-grown version have reportedly caused German consternation. BioNTech is reportedly in talks with Brussels on boosting supply levels. The company plans to launch an additional production line in Marburg, Germany ahead of initial schedule with the capacity to produce upwards of 250 million doses in the first half of 2021.

The founders additionally indicated that a next-generation vaccine scheduled to be ready by late summer would be easier to ship and administer from the current extreme cold chain shipping and storage requirements of the current vaccine. . Reportedly, talks are further underway to with contract manufacturers to boost production levels.

On the topic of vaccine contract manufacturing, The Wall Street Journal reported this week that global based contract manufacturers qualified to produce vaccine are struggling with a shortage of workers required to boost production levels. According to an analysis conducted by the publication, more than 5,000 open jobs exist among the world’s ten largest contract manufacturers that have won COVID-19 production contracts. Reportedly, additional hiring is being challenged by lack of years of direct experience in pharmaceutical manufacturing and a reported unwillingness to work around the clock shifts including overnight.


Shortages of Liquid Oxygen Apparatus

Within the U.S. and other countries, a noted concern has been the availability of the now required large supplies of liquid medical grade oxygen gas required for the treatment of severely ill COVID-19 patients.

As early as March of 2020, business media such as The Wall Street Journal had reported that the two largest suppliers of medical oxygen, Air Liquide SA and Air Products Chemicals, were initiating plans to ensure supplies of this critical gas were adequate to meet global pandemic demand levels. Production of this gas is not constrained by raw material since it is produced by atmospheric air separation techniques with impurities and moisture removal. However, the sheer bulk and weight as well as hazardous threat of the gas requires that the supply chain be localized for demand consumption and supply needs. The challenge comes in the bulk distribution and storage among local hospitals, or in needs for smaller canisters for post-hospital stay for treatment needs of individual patients.

The latest shortage dilemma has been especially evident among hospitals in the Southern California health system, currently overwhelmed by critically ill COVID-19 patients. Hospital officials cite aging hospital gas distribution pipes that are freezing or have broken down because of high levels of required oxygen flows within individual hospitals. A further cited challenge is a shortage of required oxygen canisters which patients require for post hospital care.

A McKinsey & Company report published in August 2020 called attention to a reality that COVID-19 exposed critical shortages of oxygen among developing countries. Noted was that while developed regions such as the U.S. and Western Europe were thought to have relatively mature and sound medical oxygen infrastructures, less-developed countries were already presumed to be struggling for such needs. Agencies such as the World Heath Organization and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were actively addressing means to address such shortages including higher availability of ocean concentrator machines as well as the global supply of small canisters to store oxygen. A shortage of oxygen tanks globally has resulted with just a few global producers making such tanks.

Now, with many large, developed nations as well as developing nations struggling with very large numbers of infection and critical illness, the hidden cracks of localized medical oxygen supply networks and supporting infrastructure have exposed such vulnerabilities.


This concludes our January 4, 2021 COVID-19 Industry Supply Chain News Capsule.

As the news cycle warrants we will continue such updates initially on a bi-weekly cycle.


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