In 2020, a few days after a pandemic was declared and lockdowns were announced in the United States, the demand for staple rations shot through the roof. Procuring meats, flour, toilet paper, and sanitizing supplies felt akin to winning the lottery as consumers wiped out stores of all their inventory. In hospitals, too, critical equipment like ventilators, injections, oxygen tanks and PPE (Face masks, disposable gowns, gloves, etc.) were in abysmally short supply, leaving nurses, doctors, and staff critically vulnerable to the virus and other infections.

On the supplier side, the high pressure to meet this overnight demand in multiple sectors was exacerbated by shutdowns, triggering a global disruption of supply chain management.

In 2021, while grocery supply chains have largely stabilized, a similar struggle is playing out between the manufacturing and supply of COVID-19 vaccinations as they try their best to meet global demands.

In the United States, the rollout for two approved COVID-19 vaccination variants has been rife with obstacles. With each state following their own distribution plan, the process has been chaotic, even in large cities with available infrastructure and high infection rates such as California.

A few weeks ago, in Fast Company, GRI Founding Director Stephen Flynn shared his concerns about the supply chain capacity for underfunded public health departments in effectively delivering vaccines. He said, “What we’re dealing with is the capacity for the state and the municipalities to essentially mobilize themselves to be able to carry out this campaign, and they’re doing that without a lot of resources.” The situation is especially worse for communities where vaccine confidence is exceptionally low.

Therefore, over the past year at GRI, our experts, researchers, partners, and faculty affiliates have generously shared their knowledge, creating free resources that help individuals and communities build resilience and recovery from the severe impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. And earlier this year, we also launched a digital resource known as ‘COVID-19 Vaccines 101,’ aimed at building vaccine confidence and answers frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccines, including how they are made, approved and protect the human body.

With all these obstacles, how can a community achieve immunity and overcome the pandemic?

According to GRI Faculty Affiliate Dr. Nada Sanders, supply chain management expert and distinguished professor of supply chain management at Northeastern University, the answer lies in adapting new strategies to supply chain management using existing resources. In News@Northeastern, she provides a 4-step plan that tackles supply chain obstacles in the vaccination rollout on all fronts.

Echoing Dr. Flynn’s concerns, she says a more centralized supply chain approach to delivering and administering vaccinations would be far more efficient than leaving individual states to figure things out on their own. Further, including leaders like Bill Gates, who have the leadership skills and experience in large-scale immunization programs would be particularly beneficial in improving distribution rates across the country. Adding, partnering with existing nation-wide supply chains in businesses like Starbucks who serve 100 million customers per week from 33,000 stores, could expedite the US vaccination rollout.

And it seems like the administration may be listening.

Promising a thorough supply chain review including the departments of Justice, Commerce, and Homeland Security, President Biden’s new administration promises to increase domestic manufacturing capacity to build long-term supply chain resilience for pharmaceuticals. While only time will measure the success of this plan, prioritizing supply chain resilience is an important first step.

At GRI, a key area of our resilience solutions and expertise is within supply chain, transportation, and distribution system resilience. Through comprehensive resilience analysis, we’ve provided industries across the world with bespoke solutions that protect and strengthen these critical systems. We know that a pandemic is only one out of numerous threats to supply chains across the world. Severe natural disasters and nefarious actors like criminals dealing in narcotics, weapons, and hazardous waste, routinely affect global supply systems causing chaos and heavy financial losses.

Their threat to COVID-19 vaccination supply chain too, is exceedingly real, and can only be overcome with a comprehensive, sustainable and resilient supply chain.


      1. COVID-19 resources from The Global Resilience Institute:
      2. Supply Chain Solutions from The Global Resilience Institute:
      3. Supply Chain Plan from President Joe Biden:
      4. News@Northeastern:
      5. The New York Times:
      6. Fast Company:
      7. The CDC: