Behind-the-scenes of historic delivery

The creative problem solving in vaccine distribution
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Just when it seemed everything was in place for UPS’s plans to help distribute COVID-19 vaccines, one more logistical problem had to be solved … and Lea Davis stepped up to meet the challenge.

Putting the cold in cold chain

It’s been widely publicized that certain COVID-19 vaccines must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures during transit. But what’s rarely mentioned is many facilities expected to distribute these vaccines are not set up to maintain the doses at the required temperature once they arrive.

One solution? Send supplemental shipments of dry ice within 24 hours of vaccine delivery, so the doses can be re-iced – something easier said than done.

No time to lose

When Lea Davis, a manager in thermal packaging, was asked to develop a re-icing solution for ultra-cold vaccines, it was the week before Thanksgiving. And there were plenty of obstacles to overcome.

“One of the biggest challenges was just the timeline itself,” Lea said. “We had to have our plan in place by November 30.”

That meant the immediate acquisition of thermal coolers, dry ice and corrugate, which were already in high demand due to the pandemic.

“Right now, almost everything related to thermal packaging is hard to get your hands on,” said Mark Taylor, strategy director for UPS Healthcare. “Thanks to her relationships, Lea was able to partner and negotiate with companies to provide these materials.”

Even the printing of branded packaging, a process that normally takes two to three weeks, had to be completed in days.

“If our strategic partners hadn’t said yes, it would have been a harder task for us to say yes,” Lea said. “They really pulled out the stops to get us what we needed.”

Location, location, location

Another hurdle was ensuring that shipments of dry ice could be delivered to dosing locations in every state and territory within one day. According to Lea, UPS is the only common carrier capable of making that happen.  

But sending all the shipments via Next Day Air wasn’t an option due to limits on how much dry ice is allowed on each flight. Therefore, hubs in Louisville, Dallas/Ft. Worth and Fontana, California were selected so UPS could move the re-ice packages through its air and ground network meeting next day commitments. Setting up three packing centers in a short amount of time is a uniquely demanding challenge.

Precious cargo

On a call with the project’s operators and suppliers Lea stressed the importance of what they were doing together.

“I told them, ‘If we fail, doses of vaccine could be at risk. That could mean that people don’t get vaccinated or have to wait. Even the small decisions we make have an impact on people’s lives,’” she said.

To ensure they’re highly visible, UPS’s re-icing shipments feature UPS Healthcare branded packaging and UPS Premier gold tags to ensure special handling and detailed tracking.

In good hands

The re-icing service will continue to evolve as feedback comes in from dosing centers and as carriers learn more about how vaccines need to be handled. In Lea, Mark is confident he has the right person at the helm.

“When you have someone with her level of passion and competence, you stay out of their way,” he said. “I just tell Lea to let me know when she needs help saving the world.”


UPS is celebrating Women's History Month throughout March highlighting how trailblazing women are moving our world forward by delivering what matters.

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