How might we ensure adequate reserves and distribution of essential medical supplies in future crises?
Throughout history, the U.S. government has understood the value of a reserve of critical medical supplies during a crisis. Most recently, the Strategic National Stockpile was established in 2003 to supplement state and local supplies for potential bioterrorism protection and response. Warehouses in multiple locations store antibiotics, vaccines, chemical antidotes, antitoxins, PPE, and other critical medical supplies for a range of emergencies. This stockpile has been used during the pandemic — deploying PPE and ventilators across the country — but as of mid-April, it had distributed 90% of its resources. Additionally, the federal government struggled to align with state and local governments struggled on the proper distribution of these reserves.
Responding to this pandemic and staying prepared for future emergencies requires significant political and financial commitment. We need to invest in evolving and strengthening our local, regional, and national strategies to build and maintain a greater stockpile that can be tapped when demand temporarily outstrips production capacity.
To be sure, stockpiles aren’t effective unless reserved supplies are delivered to the right place at the right time. In the early weeks of the U.S. pandemic response, existing decision-making frameworks failed, resulting in price competition, private deals, and uncertainty about accessing needed supplies. To prepare for future crises, the U.S. will need to strengthen its coordinated strategy to build a stockpile that can be used for future, as-yet-unknown crises and ensure equitable distribution.
Below are opportunities to strategically increase and maintain reserves and prepare for how to use those reserves in the future:
Rebuild a multipurpose emergency supply stockpile
- Allocate funding in national, regional, and local budgets to the development and maintenance of essential supply stockpiles.
- Prioritize the reserve of supplies with a range of potential applications so the stockpile can respond to many plausible emergencies.
- Incentivize public contribution to stockpile through approaches such as public acknowledgement, payment for goods, and preferential access when needed.
Maintain and replenish inventory
Define protocols for equitable distribution
- Define clear protocols for how entities may contribute to and draw from a stockpile.
- Set up an impartial advisory council to oversee distribution of supplies and to adapt protocols as necessary, depending on the nature of the crisis.
- Develop new ethical frameworks to ensure equitable distribution when critical items are in short supply.