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McKesson Kentucky hub is key to vaccine deployment

Massive effort hinges on ‘cold chain’ distribution system


WITH NEWS CREWS COVERING their every move, employees at McKesson’s distribution center in Shepherdsville broke into cheers on March 1 as a co-worker carried the first box of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to a UPS trailer for deliveries across the nation.

The safe delivery of the vaccines that will help to bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the biggest logistical challenges connected to a health crisis in the country’s history, and the Kentucky operation of the nation’s largest medical supply company is playing a key role.

McKesson was chosen by the federal government to distribute frozen and refrigerated vaccines, as well as the ancillary supply kits needed to administer all types of vaccines. The kits include alcohol prep pads, face shields, surgical masks, needles and syringes, a vaccine administration sheet, and a vaccine record and reminder card.

In December, McKesson began distributing the ancillary supply kits for Pfizer BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and ancillary supply kits.

McKesson is one of many corporations that operate distribution centers in close proximity to UPS Worldport in Louisville. Served by Salt River Electric, McKesson’s warehouse in Shepherdsville is outfitted with large-scale custom freezers and refrigerators to safely store and process vaccine doses.

“We ship the vaccines in insulated coolers that utilize different types of materials, such as frozen coolant packs, to keep the temperature in the right range based on vaccine-specific requirements,” explains Shawn Seamans, the senior executive in charge of McKesson’s COVID-19 vaccine program.

McKesson has hired hundreds of people to support the Shepherdsville operation.

“We are so proud of our local residents who are assisting in this life-saving effort,” says Tim Sharp, president and CEO of Salt River Electric. “Though we are dedicated to providing safe and reliable electric service for all of our consumer-members, knowing that the safe deployment of COVID-19 vaccines depends on our co-op is a serious and humbling responsibility.”

“Each vaccine comes with unique traits that dictate how it is stored,” Seamans says. “We created plans to manage that and quickly adapt to any issues that may arise.”

McKesson has a long history of managing the pharmaceutical and medical supply chain in the U.S., as well as handling vaccines. The company has been the centralized distributor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Vaccines for Children program since 2006 and during the H1N1 public health crisis in 2009.

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