With the annual flu season coming to a successful close, the Defense Logistics Agency is prepared to safeguard the Department of Defense sooner than ever.
In late February, DLA Troop Support Medical’s supply chain awarded a contract for 3.3 million doses of the flu vaccine, valued at $44.7 million in preparation for the 2021 flu season.
Medical met DOD timelines and requirements for partner agencies such as the Defense Health Agency and military services this flu season. Despite a pandemic, the 2020 program was successful, and 2021 is off to a great start said Alex Quinones, Medical’s Pharmaceutical Manufacturer and Distributor Division chief.
“All of our people and teammates worked together tirelessly to ensure our service members, their dependents and retirees were vaccinated,” he said. “It was a success because of the teamwork and dedication we all have. We put every effort forth in support of the warfighter.”
2021: Ahead of the flu curve
On the heels of one of the most challenging flu seasons on record for Quinones and his team, DLA Troop Support Medical wanted to be sure this year’s program had as few challenges as possible in a world of uncertainty.
“Early award promotes [industry] competition,” John Garbarino, flu program contracting officer, said. “Demand for flu vaccines is very high at the moment, so making an early award helps DLA stay ahead of the curve.”
Unlike recent years, the team was able to use two awards for the 2021 flu vaccine on Feb. 23: a $29.7 million award to GlaxoSmithKline for 2.4 million doses, and a $15M award to Seqirus for 947,000 doses.
A challenge Medical faces is making sure customer requirements are met, but Garbarino and the team stay engaged year-round.
“We schedule weekly teleconferences throughout the season for flu vaccine program key players such as DHA, DLA Distribution and military service-specific flu program leads to discuss issues such as vendor deliveries, prioritizing requisitions and shipping,” Garbarino said.
With that strategy in place, he feels the earlier start to the annual flu vaccine acquisition will be a benefit to the customers, and open competition to a larger pool of potential bidders.
“Earlier awards may cause stress to the military services when requesting final total requirements for the [upcoming] flu season,” Garbarino said. “But we survey the market each year to stay on top of new trends, and our awards will continue to be made earlier than in past to improve on our success.”
2020: Overcoming obstacles, finding success
In line with historical flu contracts, the single 2020 contract for 3.4 million doses of the flu vaccine valued at $67 million according to DOD customer requirements. Unlike previous years though, the program overcame new challenges posed by COVID-19 and its impacts.
“Due to the coronavirus, everyone wanted to be vaccinated as quickly as they could,” Jenna Wesolowski, flu program contracting officer, said.
Because of this, many producers were unable to meet one of the initial requirements of the contract consisting of 41% of the total number of vaccines, she said. Thanks to the hard work of the team and their industry partners, DLA was able to obtain a source to fill that need with a November 2020 delivery date.
It was not ideal, but within the customer’s timelines. Then the unexpected happened.
“Due to a COVID-19 outbreak and a facility maintenance issue at the manufacturing site, the plant had to close and COVID-19 protocols had to be cleared before it could re-open and they could ship the remainder of the flu vaccines,” Wesolowski said.
Within a month, and after significant coordination to ensure appropriate safety protocols were followed, teamwork - with the vendor and within DLA - was the key to success.
“Our partners at DLA Distribution worked as fast as possible to turn the vaccine around and ship it out to customers quickly and successfully,” Wesolowski said.
To Quinones and his team, the program isn’t just another thing to buy. It’s about the impact.
“DLA’s flu team takes great pride in providing vaccines for the warfighter. We make it our goal each season to ensure their requirements are put on contract, received, and shipped out to them all within a timely manner to ensure their wellness and readiness,” he said.