Researchers from the University of Minnesota say disruptions in the global supply chain for products and services that maintain public health could have a catastrophic impact on the health of the United States during a pandemic.
To stop this from happening, the researchers argue, the U.S. must move to vaccinate early those workers who provide such goods and services associated with the nation's health.
Commenting on the government's draft guidance on vaccine priority, the researchers explain:
To date, the HHS and DHS process has not recognized and addressed the realities of the global, just-in-time economy which has neither surge production nor distribution capacity for many of the critical products and services that all residents of our country require to support their daily lives and their current health status. In short, a minor disruption in a single ingredient, part, chemical constituent, packaging material or transportation mode means that this product will quickly be unavailable. We consider the supply chain for such a product to be extremely vulnerable, a condition common to most products and services we utilize today.
The researchers worry that the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security haven't done enough to protect workers critical to producing and maintaining vital products and services throughout global supply chains during a pandemic.
The government should therefore identify those products and services critical to "aggregate welfare" and scrutinize the global supply chain for each product and service identified and shore up any weaknesses so that if a pandemic strikes, these goods and services will remain available.
Afterwards, the government must develop plans to provide "early vaccines" to those critical workforces before vaccinating the general population, including children.
While the thought of vaccinating workers in certain economic sectors before children may disturb people, the researchers note that it is a necessity.
[In] the current guidance millions of toddlers will receive pandemic influenza vaccine before those who provide electricity and transportation. While we understand the need to vaccinate vulnerable populations during a pandemic, the consequences of having the CI fail would be catastrophic to children and adults alike.
The researchers also say to their knowledge, no agency, organization, or individual has attempted to estimate the potential collateral damage if certain goods and services became unavailable during a pandemic. This work must start soon, the researchers warn, so vaccine allocation during an emergency can be as optimal as possible.