All the hard work is starting to pay off in exactly the ways the team first envisioned. For example, when the Tennessee Immunization Program needed an emergency shipment of hepatitis A vaccine on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend in 2008, vaccines were delivered the very next day. That the process ran so smoothly is a tribute to the work of the CDC and McKesson.
The lessons learned from the success of implementing VMBIP may prompt the CDC to change the way other public health procurements are managed, such as the ordering and delivery of laboratory supplies or distribution of vaccine and other medications in response to pandemic disease or other emergencies. Gimson, with great pride in the already evident success of the project, is looking forward to seeing how this venture will grow and perform in the future, and how it can improve the overall way government delivers service to the public. “I think it’s inevitable that something will happen down the road — there will be a shortage of vaccine, there will be a manufacturer’s disruption, there will be something,” Gimson says. “I am not looking forward to the day of crisis, but when it comes, we will be thanking our lucky stars this system is in place.”
VMBIP has already proved itself invaluable, but challenges remain. The team continues to work on issues of efficiencies, performance consistencies across the supply chain, communications, and accountability — no surprise given the mind-boggling complexity of a program like VMBIP, which reaches into so many different types of communities and involves so many interrelated processes. Even so, the program’s early operational success has had a profound effect on the organization, transforming its view of the potential benefits and feasibility of change.
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Michael V. Copeland is a senior writer at Fortune magazine in San Francisco. He received a 2006 Business Journalist of the Year award from the World Leadership Forum.