Drones have been working in the medical field for some time – delivering supplies to needy countries, such as Ghana and Rwanda. Now they’re fulfilling an even more critical duty. Medical drones are helping to deliver the COVID vaccine internationally.
Zipline to Deliver COVID Vaccine
California-based drone startup Zipline is adding to its resumé. Having provided another vaccine to Africa in 2020, Zipline signed a deal with Nigeria’s Kaduna state for its medical drones to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine. This agreement will also see the delivery of blood products, medication, and other vaccines on demand.
One of the unique aspects of the COVID vaccines is that some of them need cold storage, and this makes delivery more challenging. Zipline is working on a distribution plan for the COVID vaccines with end-to-end cold chain capabilities.
“Cold chain distribution in pharma is complicated even in normal times,” explained David Gitlin, president and CEO of Carrier Global Corp., last November.
“You have a clock ticking, you have an expiration date, you have multiple modes of transportation, multiple handoffs, from (original equipment manufacturer) all the way to administration.”
Gitlin added, “The good news is public and private industry all coming together to be part of the solution through more capacity and new digital capabilities.”
Zipline has not announced which vaccine partner(s) it’s working with. However, it plans to utilize its medical drones to deliver frozen and very cold vaccines and other medical products starting in April.
The Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept in freezers between -112º and -76ºF. The Moderna and Astra-Zeneca vaccines need to be kept very cold, but not as drastic. The not-yet-released Johnson & Johnson vaccine follows standard vaccine temperatures of between 36º and 46ºF.
In both the United States and Africa, Zipline is adding cold storage to its distribution centers to “conduct end-to-end thermal validation from the point of pick-up to the patient,” explained a Zipline statement.
A spokeswoman for Pfizer said it supports the efforts of Zipline to expand the reach of the vaccines. “We share Zipline’s commitment to innovative solutions to ensure equity in the distribution of vaccines and medicines,” said the spokeswoman, without confirming whether her company had a deal with Zipline.
While the U.S. and many other countries are still struggling with COVID, there’s global evidence that the vaccines are producing results, even with varients spreading throughout multiple countries.
Zipline also signed a deal for its medical drones in the U.S. last May. Novant Health received FAA authorization for contactless distribution of PPE and other medical supplies in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area. Zipline is also partnering with Walmart to deliver health and wellness products in the U.S.
“More than 100 million people in America – in both rural and urban areas – live in pharmacy deserts and lack adequate access to the medicine they need to stay healthy,” said Keller Rinaudo, Zipline co-founder and CEO. “Building this 21st-century infrastructure will not only create more high tech jobs in rural America and create more green, zero emissions logistics options, but it could revolutionize the way millions get their care delivered.”
Many negative things can be said about technology, and it can be very frustrating to many people. But this shows it’s also capable of good, honorable things. The COVID vaccines the medical drones deliver will save lives – countless lives.
Read to learn about quarantined children who received library books via Google drones.