COVID-19 Vaccine Program: When Duty Calls

Talent acquisition and customer support reflect on a year of taking on one of the most important projects in McKesson’s history.



Read time: 5 minutes

The world has witnessed the role that healthcare workers have played throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Beyond frontline healthcare workers, there are still untold stories of others who put their lives on hold to support the nation in one of the biggest health crises we’ve ever seen.

Among them were two McKesson teams focused on the most important ingredient of all – people.

It took thousands of people to ultimately pick and pack COVID-19 vaccines into custom coolers and assemble the ancillary supply kits needed to administer them. And it was people – customer service representatives, to be more specific – who worked as long as it took to respond to and manage customer challenges so that families and friends could get vaccinated.

A worker in McKesson’s Louisville, Ky. distribution center prepares a box of COVID-19 vaccine doses for shipment

Pictured: A worker in McKesson’s Louisville, Ky. distribution center prepares a box of COVID-19 vaccine doses for shipment.

Meet two McKesson leaders – Garner Crowder, senior director of talent acquisition operations and U.S. core delivery, and Terry Guirey, vice president of customer service for McKesson Medical-Surgical – who reflect on the past year and what it took for their teams to be ready for any scenario that came their way.

Mobilizing Teams with No Time to Spare

In late summer of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tapped McKesson to operate as the centralized vaccine distributor for frozen and refrigerated vaccines. A month later in September, the Strategic National Stockpile awarded the company a contract to assemble the ancillary supply kits needed to administer the vaccines. With vaccine candidates already in clinical trials, the company needed to quickly expand its operations team and recruit people to work at the distribution centers that would support the vaccine program.

Garner Crowder

Garner Crowder

“I’ve never experienced anything like this. We had very limited time to mobilize people to carry out one of the most important public health initiatives the world had ever seen,” Garner recalls. “We quickly mapped out all of the needs, and within weeks we began to redirect people into new roles.”

And while the leaders of the program came together, the company engaged staffing companies to recruit and hire the additional people that would do the bulk of the work on the ground. However, the need for more workers came at a time when demand for talent to work in supply chain operations was at an all-time high. The vaccines were likely slated to roll out during the peak holiday season.

“We weren’t certain when the FDA would grant Emergency Use Authorization for any COVID-19 vaccines, we worked to make sure that thousands of people were trained so they could support our nation when it was time,” Garner adds. “And to get ahead, we were planning to start assembling the ancillary supply kits as soon as we could secure the components and get the people in place. So yes, the pressure was on.”

Through various partners, the people were hired, and the training and practicing began. Yet along the way, the need to adjust the workforce during different phases of the program were all part of the unknown elements that had to be balanced and managed carefully. More people were needed to work inside freezers for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, the U.S. government leveraged McKesson to support their mission to deploy vaccines to other countries in need, and then the Delta variant increased domestic demand for shipments.

But no matter what hurdles or changes they faced, Garner and her team managed through all the complexities.

“We stayed tremendously focused,” she says. “I couldn’t be prouder of our team that managed through so much uncertainty to successfully support the needs of this program, and I’m confident in our ability to continue to do so no matter what might come our way.”

Customer Service Reaches New Heights

Terry Guirey had just led a team through an earlier crisis – trying to procure personal protective equipment (PPE) for customers throughout the country. Her team partnered with the U.S. government and others inside McKesson to support the Project Airbridge program, which helped get more product to the U.S. from overseas.

Just a few months later, she was asked to lead yet another major effort.

Terry Guirey

Terry Guirey

“Although I had previously worked on McKesson’s efforts in support of the response to the H1N1 pandemic back in 2009, I knew this particular undertaking was far more complex due to additional cold chain requirements, the management of the ancillary supply kits, and just the scale of this endeavor overall,” she explains.

Nevertheless, Terry immediately got to work standing up call centers all while continuing to manage her core Medical-Surgical customer service team. Terry, as well as key leaders she brought in from her business, prepared to respond to inquiries and worked with staffing companies staffing companies to bring in more representatives. They made sure all were trained for the day the first vaccine became ready for distribution. And, they did so in just a matter of weeks.

From the day her teams were operational until the moment the vaccines began shipping, Terry kept everyone focused on successfully accomplishing the goal – helping Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19. In the first two weeks of shipping vaccines, customer service representatives and supervisors volunteered to work Christmas and New Year’s Day to provide much-needed support in making sure vaccine doses and ancillary supply kits reached their final destinations.

And despite the many challenges they’ve faced, seeing their unwavering dedication come to fruition has been the greatest motivator of all.

“When we’re in the thick of it, the goals we’re working toward can often feel abstract,” she explains. “Witnessing our friends, our families, our frontline workers getting vaccinated – and knowing we’re playing an important part in making that happen – that’s what keeps us going. That’s what makes it all worth it.”

Distribution workers carry labeled and processed COVID-19 vaccine doses to the shipping area at McKesson’s Louisville, Ky. location

Pictured: Distribution workers carry labeled and processed COVID-19 vaccine doses to the shipping area at McKesson’s Louisville, Ky. location.

And with that spirit, both Garner and Terry – along with their tremendous teams – continue their work so our country can fight to get past this pandemic once and for all.