The hidden procurement challenges behind the global vaccine rollout

posted by Garry Jones
8 March 2021

In the battle against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, countries across the world have launched some of their biggest mass-vaccination programmes, seeking to provide their citizens with protection from the virus as soon as possible.

However, there are significant barriers. Vaccination programmes to reach entire populations in a matter of months are on unprecedented scales. The purchase of enough vaccine itself is only one part of the puzzle that governments around the world must navigate. As well as that, governments also need to ensure their countries have access to enough PPE, including gloves, masks and suits, not to mention equipment such as the needles, syringes and dilution liquids that are crucial in enabling healthcare workers to carry out the vaccination process, while being protected from infection themselves. Some countries are already facing shortages of some of this equipment- Italy and Greece, for example, have been hit by a shortage of needles.

It is clear that there are hidden procurement hurdles that governments worldwide must overcome if we are to be successful in vaccinating populations globally in short time frames, while maintaining high levels of safety. Can governments leverage modern technologies to implement better marketplace design and overcome procurement difficulties? 

Procurement issues at present

Governments globally have had to carry out extensive responses across many organisations when combatting the pandemic, with many public organisations needed to enable the procurement of a massive amount of goods and services in a short period of time. A report by the Open Contracting Partnership and Spend Network found governments had spent $130bn (£97bn) on pandemic-related contracts, including on PPE and other medical supplies, out of an annual procurement spend of nearly $13tn.

Worldwide, governments have been accused of inefficient procurement processes. Bias, conflicts of interest, improper due diligence and poor transparency have all manifested at points as a result of the risks associated with direct procurement.

The Open Contracting Partnership and Spend Network recently warned that a lack of transparency and high-quality data about money spent with private firms meant huge sums could be wasted, with companies having no relevant experience being awarded huge contracts for medical equipment without transparency or competition. Multiple times, supplies did not arrive or failed to meet the required standards, costing lives and leaving medical workers bereft of critical supplies.

These occurrences point to a lack of knowledge, expertise and business logic. Countries cannot afford to make these mistakes when rolling out vaccination programmes; the right equipment must be procured at the right time, for the global fight against the virus hangs in the balance.

Solving these problems with technology

Governments around the world must introduce digital marketplaces where, as buyers, they can gain choice, value and efficiency. Many models could be considered, including auction programmes for direct access with variants of auction methodologies with regular but defined auction timeframes; request for quote marketplace systems; and full interactive markets. Data science algorithms can also be used to improve decision making efficiency in many instances. Such marketplaces prevent overspend by bringing together buyers and sellers to transact at an optimal price that is fair as well as transparent for all parties.

When trades take place on these marketplaces, they are then displayed at a discoverable price which are fed back to the market. This gives buyers increased awareness of supplier options, improving competition among suppliers and providing opportunities for bigger purchasers to drive scale advantages. Digital marketplaces also mean there is a reliable audit trail, cutting back office costs while also meeting enhanced regulatory and compliance standards.

The rollout of vaccinations across the world is urgent, so governments need to procure resources quickly and efficiently, and at low cost. Many UK technology companies have already successfully implemented digital marketplaces across numerous industries, so it is evident that only through investing in such technologies can we move towards an effective vaccine rollout for populations across the globe.  

  Garry Jones is CEO of Perfect Channel

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