Addressing Traditional Need Amid Pandemic Contingency

Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support has and continues to provide flu vaccines to warfighters despite ongoing efforts to mitigate global COVID-19 supply challenges.

By John Dwyer III, DLA Troop Support

From Combat & Casualty Care , Q4 Winter 2021

The “secret to success” of the Defense Logistics Agency’s flu vaccine program is no secret at all: early, often and accurate communication with customers and industry partners.
While some years are better than others, and there are many factors that can influence when vaccines are delivered to military customers, communicating early and often are keys to a good year, DLA Troop Support’s Pharmaceutical Manufacturer/Distributor Division Chief Alexander Quinones said.

Communicating early: Success in acquisition

Historically, contracts were awarded in the summertime just before the start of flu season and often left DLA short on options and competitive pricing, Quinones said. This year, communications started earlier than ever in July 2020.

Quinones’ team recognized that by starting earlier and using previous year averages to open bidding on the services’ needs, they could improve their position heading into the next year’s flu program – a win for the warfighter and the DLA team, he said.

By taking this approach and involving partners at the Defense Health Agency early in the decision process, DLA was able to “get in line” earlier with vendors, allowing more flexibility and options for products and quantities. It also gave the military services time to gather their requirements for 2021 within the expedited timeline.

The head start also provided flexibility in negotiations despite an aggressive delivery timeline. DHA’s Immunization Healthcare Division provision of early, accurate requirements further enabled the earliest flu award ever on Feb. 23, 2021.

“Now, we’re four, five, six months ahead of where we used to be, putting ourselves in a better place for competition with more industry partners,” Quinones said.

Communicating often: Success in delivery

Early delivery is always a goal, but it’s a balancing act against summer weather in advance of flu season. “We don’t like to bring it in too early… because the higher temperatures don’t allow us to ship to everyone worldwide,” Quinones said.

Higher ambient temperatures wear on the product faster and make it difficult to get to certain places, making temperature management a vital part of the logistics process, DLA cold chain management expert Dana Dallas said.

“For our [Department of Defense] customer base…if it isn’t done correctly, it can ruin critical supplies and negatively affect DOD’s ability to support warfighters, retirees and their families,” Dallas said.

To mitigate the challenge, Quinones and his team participated in weekly calls with the IHD to manage deliveries and expectations. “We were able to use staggered shipments to [DLA Distribution’s] depot and it’s been working,” Quinones said.

Communicating priorities: Success in readiness

As different products are received at the depot, deliveries are made depending on a combination of considerations including when they arrive, and how they are prioritized on the schedule provided by the IHD and services.
“It’s about the product line that’s delivered first [multi-dose vials, prefilled syringes, or other vaccine products], then the priority,” Quinones said. “It’s up to the services to tell [DLA] what to push where.”

The flu vaccine, as part of the overall Medical mission within DLA Troop Support, is vital to readiness and something that the team takes to heart, Medical Director Army Col. Matthew Voyles said.

“Keeping the warfighter medically ready to fight anytime, anywhere is what we do, and our team takes that mission very seriously,” Voyles said. “It’s never ‘you can’t do it without us.’ It’s always, ‘we can’t do it without each other.’”