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The message to get vaccinated hasn’t been lost on many Americans who are already calling their doctors and pharmacists to schedule a flu shot appointment before the start of the 2020-2021 influenza season.
Amidst the dual epidemics of influenza and COVID-19 likely to occur this fall and winter, it’s especially important that providers prepare for an influx of patients and consumers who will want to get vaccinated against the flu, whose symptoms can be similar to the novel coronavirus.
For both patients and healthcare providers, the flu vaccination is vital to protect public health as well as weed out potential COVID-19 cases. While a flu shot will not prevent COVID-19, patients receiving one could help clinicians eliminate guesswork and better differentiate between the viruses if symptoms develop—saving critical supplies in the process. As one example on the supply side, following past disease outbreaks such as SARS, H1N1 and Ebola, we typically see a 20% increase in syringe demand. And this year, vaccine manufacturers project that they will supply 194-198 million doses of the flu vaccine—a 9.7% to 11.6% increase from the record 175 million doses distributed for the 2019-20 flu season.
With this season’s higher-than-normal demand for flu shots, it’s likely that more individuals will look to receive their vaccination earlier this year. That’s why Premier partners with hospitals and health systems across the country to ensure they have sufficient flu vaccine supply when they need it.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an influenza vaccination, coupled with COVID-19 best practices in place since March—hand washing, mask wearing, social distancing and staying home—can help reduce the overall effects of respiratory illnesses on the population, minimize emergency room visits and lessen the subsequent burden on the U.S. healthcare system.
Take a look at five ways our group purchasing organization gets vaccines into the hands of those who need them most:
1. We are working with partners to ensure adequate vial and syringe production and flu shot inventory. Through our strong collaboration with manufacturers, suppliers and federal agencies, including with Project Jumpstart—a government initiative to expand production capacity for domestically manufactured, medical-grade injection devices—Premier is helping U.S. healthcare providers and our nation prepare for the impending flu season. Collectively, the U.S. will have secured 100 million syringes by the end of 2020, and over the next 18 months, we’re targeting an additional 860 million syringes. These figures are in addition to the 5 billion syringes that manufacturers deliver to acute-care providers in the U.S. every year. For flu vaccines, the U.S. has already procured the inventory for an estimated 200 million shots, which will be delivered to providers beginning this month.
2. Our flexible return policy results in more people getting vaccinated. Hospitals are allowed to return up to 30% of the flu vaccines they order, and by offering this benefit, we’ve seen that providers are willing to keep more vaccines on their shelves and end up vaccinating throughout the entire season. While we offer 30% returnability, we only see about a 12% return rate—which suggests Premier’s strategy also enables providers to vaccinate a greater portion of the population.
3. We are enhancing supply chain visibility and allocating vital products based on accurate, real-time data. Premier has an investment stake and long-standing partnership with the specialty distributor, FFF Enterprises. This relationship allows us the ability to take a precise, surgical approach to product allocation, leveraging a dynamic allocation method that’s based on personalized, real-time data and clinical need. Our smart refrigerators track the quantity of doses and instantly share supply data, allowing providers to focus wholly on vaccine administration. As a trusted connection point between manufacturers, distributors and providers, Premier’s work helps ensure ordering is swift and continuous, prevents hoarding and provides instant, on-demand visibility into vaccine demand that can be reported and shared across the supply chain.
4. Our distribution strategy helps providers circumvent the potential effects of vaccine shortages. Manufacturers are already distributing flu vaccines this season with no significant delays reported; however, due to the record number of doses planned for this season, production and distribution will occur over a longer period. Alongside our real-time data and supply chain visibility, we ensure hospitals receive timely shipments of their pre-ordered vaccines. And if their chosen vaccine manufacturer is facing delays, we can shift the order to come from a manufacturer we know has sufficient supply. This enables providers to stay on track with pre-scheduled flu clinics and vaccinate more quickly.
5. Our experts are hyperaware of potential drug and medical device disruptions and are working to proactively mitigate them. Via our proactive supply chain efforts, including ProvideGx, a program that provides a continuous supply of critical shortage medications, we’re helping hospitals reduce delays or stoppages in delivering high-quality patient care that would otherwise be hampered by inadequate drug supply. During COVID-19, for example, ProvideGx continues to meet 100% of our members’ needs for shortage products—even though demand surged by 156%. For drugs not on shortage but heavily backordered due to surge demand, we work with manufacturers and our distribution partner to remove product from traditional wholesale allocations and earmark it for purchase by Premier members. To date, we have 44 different pharmaceutical products available only to Premier members through FFF.
Hospitals and emergency rooms typically see their highest patient volumes of the year during flu season—and the convergence of COVID-19 may bring an extra challenge for which hospitals must prepare.
We are proud to serve as an experienced partner to our members in delivering access to vital products and supplies—enabling a more resilient and reliable healthcare supply chain of the future.