The Pfizer vaccine: I’m a UPS driver delivering shipments in Arizona

  • Terri Betzer, 46, is a UPS delivery driver based in Phoenix, Arizona.
  • She’s been working for UPS for 25 years, and in the past week has been one of many drivers tasked with delivering the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to health centers around the country.
  • As someone who’s worked bringing essential supplies like medicine and food to people throughout the pandemic, Betzer says she’s proud to be part of the effort to distribute the vaccine.
  • “People are scared,” says Betzer. “If these vaccines have the potential to ease some of that fear and future loss, it’s a privilege for me to be a part of it.”
  • Here’s what her job is like, as told to Business Insider.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As a UPS driver, our peak busy season usually runs from the end of the year through mid-February as many customers make online returns or shop with gift cards they received during the holidays.

Early this year, we’d begun to slow down for about a week before the pandemic began to pick up in the US. We immediately got busy again and have stayed busy ever since. It was almost like peak season never ended.

There’s a kind of pride that comes with being called an essential worker and knowing we’re bringing people the things they need, that they can’t live without. 

We found out in early December that we’d begin delivering the Pfizer vaccine in a few weeks.

A UPS truck transporting vaccine shipments away from the Pfizer manufacturing site in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

A UPS truck transporting vaccine shipments away from the Pfizer manufacturing site in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Courtesy of UPS

We don’t have in-person meetings anymore because we can’t gather, but our supervisors keep us informed by sending messages over the computers we carry in our trucks to update us on what’s going on.

The company has been working with Operation Warp Speed for months, and we all reviewed critical healthcare paperwork to learn how to handle the vaccine packages because they come through with a special barcode and special packaging.

We have the ability to deliver everything in the same truck, from Christmas gifts to critical healthcare supplies.

UPS vaccine Terri Betzer

Betzer preparing her UPS truck for deliveries.

Courtesy of UPS

I know if I have vaccine packages in my car, that’s one of my first few stops for the day. As a driver, all you have to do is look in your truck and identify the white boxes with black handles that are cold to the touch. Even when I go to move the boxes and unload them, I can feel the coolness inside, since they’re kept at a very low temperature.

We’re trained to never use the strap handles on the vaccine shipments or any other boxes, because if it slips or breaks, that package has the potential to be damaged or fall on your toe or your foot. We always handle packages by holding them by opposing corners in the ‘power zone,’ the area between your knees and shoulders which is where you have the most control.

Read more: How retailers big and small plan to tackle last-mile challenges, from third-party delivery services to acquiring their own tech

My first vaccine delivery was on Monday, December 14 to a local hospital.

Terri Betzer UPS

Betzer helping load vaccine shipments into her truck last week.

Courtesy of UPS

I went there first thing in the morning, and there were cameras and news crews set up to capture the moment. It was a really good feeling, being someone who’s delivering packages that have the potential to help so many people. 

As a driver, I’ve seen all kinds of things during the pandemic. There are people who have notices on their doors saying that somebody is sick inside and to please put the packages in a certain place. Some people won’t touch their packages for 24 hours. 

The mom of one of our dispatchers got sick, and they took her to the hospital and found out she tested positive for COVID-19. She was healthy, in her early 70s, but after they had to leave her at the hospital, they never saw her again. It’s terrible. People are scared. 

If these vaccines have the potential to help people or ease some of that fear and future loss, it’s a privilege for me to be a part of it. 

I’m one of about 300 drivers at my center, and my day starts before 9 a.m.

Most drivers arrive around 9:00 a.m. to gather any cleaning supplies and a new mask. Then we walk to our package cars, see what the load is, and check for next day expedited packages as well as critical healthcare supply shipments. 

Around 9:30 a.m., we look like a swarm of bees made of UPS trucks, all leaving the building to jump on the freeway to start our routes. We deliver next day air packages and critical packages first, before moving on to business and residential customers and pickups in the afternoon.

Our network is set up so that when I go out in the morning, I have the same route I’ve always had. Now, I just have a few extra boxes of vaccine shipments to deliver to my usual roster of hospitals, doctor’s offices, and senior residential homes. This helps me deliver everything seamlessly and stay on schedule.

I’m on the safety committee at my UPS center, so I arrive early each morning to organize cleaning and sanitization.

Terri Betzer Courtesy of UPS

Betzer has been part of the safety committee at her Phoenix facility for 10 years.

Courtesy of UPS

During the pandemic, I’ve helped organize driver groups who work together to clean and sanitize the trucks every morning. We wipe down everything the driver touches with a bucket of cleaning solution, from the steering wheel, key spots, and mirrors, to the handrails, seatbelt, and gear shifter.

We also set up a table with new gloves, masks, and cleaning solutions for the drivers to pick up each day when they arrive and take on their shifts. 

On top of that, I run our normal safety committee activities. Last week, we did a demo on slips, trips, and fall hazards, such as extension cords or light cables that a lot of people have in their yards to power inflatable holiday decorations and Christmas lights.

Read more: The lucrative lives of professional Christmas decorators, who charge as much as $80,000 to deck a house’s halls and say business is booming this year

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, we’re very busy and none of us take vacation.

We have so many packages to deliver that many driver’s regular routes have been cut in half, from say one square mile to half a mile. We’ve also hired more peak season drivers during this time, and everyone on the safety committee gets paid for putting in those extra hours outside of our shifts.

An average driver work week is 45 to 48 hours, but during the pandemic many of us have picked up extra shifts.

UPS Terri Betzer

Betzer and a colleague loading the Pfizer vaccine boxes onto her truck.

Courtesy of UPS

A lot of drivers finish by about 6 p.m., and others who asked for more work stay out a bit later, but nobody goes over 12 hours a shift or 50 to 55 hours in a week. My husband and daughter are also both essential workers, so everyone in my household goes to work every day.

Having been on the safety committee for about 10 years now, I also organize a program called Wellness Wednesdays where we talk about getting good sleep and nutrition to stay healthy during this busy season.

I’m grateful to be working during this time and haven’t been worried about getting sick thanks to the sanitation and safety practices UPS has created to keep us safe. I feel proud to bring people the things they need during the pandemic, and to help distribute a vaccine to frontline workers who need it most.

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