Vaccines Delivered by Drone

Updated: Feb 26, 2021

In remote and under-resourced areas, drones reduce the risk of spoilage and wastage for what is now one of the most precious commodities on the earth.

For a remote health clinic - whether in Africa or in a rural part of the U.S. - one of the challenges presented by the Moderna and Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines is their temperature requirements. The ultra-cold freezers needed to store them cost $10,000 or more, and storing the vaccines in dry ice is logistically complicated. Getting the vaccines to remote locations quickly, therefore, is key. To do that, some vaccines will soon begin to be delivered by drone.

Zipline, a drone delivery service that first launched in Rwanda in 2014, making emergency deliveries of blood for transfusions to rural clinics, will begin delivering Covid-19 vaccines in the countries where it currently operates - Rwanda, Ghana, Tanzania, and the rural U.S. - this spring. The company will store vaccines in ultra-cold freezers at its distribution centres, and when a clinic needs vaccines, the drones can make a delivery within roughly half an hour.

“Because we will have ultra-low freezers at our distribution centers, it allows rural and remote health facilities to bypass the need for having the freezers themselves,” says Zipline. “And because we make deliveries on demand, we can send the precise amount needed at that very moment. They don’t have to worry about inventory. They don’t have to worry about having too much or having too little - we’re sending it right away.”

Right now, if a vaccine distribution center doesn’t have an ultra-low-temperature freezer, a vaccine such as Pfizer’s will only last five days. “You’re at risk of spoilage and wastage for what is one of the most precious commodities on the earth right now,” Zipline says.

When Zipline gets an order, it will send the vaccines inside a box in the drone that tracks the temperature and keeps the vaccine cold. It isn’t ultra-cold - the vaccines will begin to thaw. But because they can be delivered quickly, shots can be administered before the vaccines expire.

In rural USA, many hospitals can’t afford expensive new freezers. “Many don’t have the infrastructure they need to receive these vaccines,” says Zipline. So while they may need them the most, they might be the least likely to get them at a significant scale. Unless we bring in some major help.”



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