Cover: A Mechanism to Reduce Medical Supply Shortfalls During Pandemics

A Mechanism to Reduce Medical Supply Shortfalls During Pandemics

Published Apr 16, 2020

by Elizabeth Hastings Roer, Isla Globus-Harris

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During a pandemic, there is a high risk of medical supply shortfalls and inefficient distribution of medical supplies. If different regions face pandemic peaks at different points in time, supply shortfalls in regions suffering high infection caseloads (hot spots) can potentially be reduced by minimizing idle inventory and acquisitions of new supplies in regions with contemporaneously low infection caseloads (cool spots). This Perspective discusses a potential backstopping mechanism for addressing this inefficient distribution by assuring cool spots that, if they release inventoried supplies to hot spots and delay acquiring new supplies, they will receive priority access to a corresponding quantity of newly produced supplies in the future. If new supplies are not produced as quickly as expected or if the cool spot suffers an outbreak earlier than expected, the promise will be fulfilled by drawing from a centralized, dedicated pool of supplies. This backstopping mechanism thus multiplies the value of resources in a centralized pool by leveraging that pool to increase the share of resources going to hot spots. For this mechanism to work, the pool must draw in more resources over critical periods than it could otherwise provide by simply acting as a direct source of supplies. This paper also offers observations on how to evaluate whether the proposed mechanism could provide benefits over alternative responses in the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

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