Drones deliver COVID-19 vaccines to remote African regions
Early in March the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine drone deliveries began in the African nation of Ghana. The drone dropped 250 vaccine doses by parachute to a rural health center, one of 36 deliveries completed on the first day.
US medical drone delivery company Zipline has been working for several years in various African countries, building drone delivery infrastructure to help transport vital medical supplies to remote regions. Blood deliveries by drone kicked off in 2016 in Rwanda, and rapidly spread to countries including Tanzania.
The company’s custom-designed drone technology offers a round-trip range of 160 km (99 miles) with up to 1.75 kg (3.8 lb) of cargo. The fixed-wing drones can reach a top speed of 128 km/h (80 mph) and a have a cruising speed of 101 km/h (63 mph).
The latest Zipline drone deliveries encompass the first COVID-19 vaccines to be distributed in Africa as part of the global COVAX agreement, an international initiative working to aid equitable access to vaccines. After months of planning things swiftly kicked into gear when 600,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine landed in Ghana’s capital.
On the 2nd of March the first drone was launched from Mpanya, in the southern-central Ghana region of Ashanti. After 34 minutes of flying the drone arrived in Asuofua, around 70 km (43 miles) away. A small insulated box containing 25 vials of vaccine parachuted down and within five hours 250 people had been vaccinated. By the end of the day another 35 drone deliveries to the Asuofua Health Center had been completed.
With the support of several stakeholders, including the UPS Foundation, the Ghana government and Gavi - the Vaccine Alliance, several Zipline hubs have been established across the country. It’s estimated around 1,000 health centers in the country are now served by the drone delivery service.
Caitlin Burton, from Zipline, suggests this distribution system allows for precise and fast deliveries of vaccines to remote areas.
“Being able to use every point of care in the health system to get people vaccinated – that’s the strategy here,” says Burton. “We’ll be sending exactly the number of doses needed – the chain of custody is very short, and the cold chain is one hundred percent guaranteed.”
Take a look at the vaccine drone delivery system in action in the video below.