The Downside of Preparedness?

By Kim Smiley

The U.S. Government has announced that 40 million doses of swine flu vaccine have expired and must be disposed of.   In addition, 30 million more doses are about to expire and will also be disposed of (unless there is a sudden need for swine flu vaccine).  The vaccine doses are worth $260-$450 million.  We can capture this information in a problem definition outline.

Then the question is: is this a bad thing (a problem) or a good thing (a success)?  Like a lot of things, it doesn’t necessarily have to be one or the other.  There’s an aspect of success – swine flu did NOT turn out to be a deadly global epidemic, as was predicted – and an aspect of failure – up to $450 million of vaccines were tossed out.

The question that remains for the analysis is: how do we maximize the successes (preventing epidemics) and minimize the not-so-good stuff (wasting vaccines and money)?  A detailed root cause analysis can draw out the successes and problems associated with any event, including this one.  We can use it to look at the planning process used for an epidemic to look for places where the estimation of the need for vaccines can be improved.  We can even look at the use of and expiration dates of the vaccine to determine if, in the future, a backup plan might allow us to get some secondary use out of the vaccines.  Opportunities for improvement are limited only by the brainstorming capability of your organization!