COVID-19 vaccines delivered to rural parts of Africa using drones

The latest example of drones supporting healthcare in rural regions comes from Gavi, UPS, and Zipline, which have delivered hundreds of COVID-19 vaccine doses to remote regions in Africa using small autonomous aircraft. The first delivery took place on March 2 in Ghana's Mpanya, where a Zipline drone delivered a payload of 250 COVID-19 vaccine doses.

The achievement was recently detailed by the vaccine alliance Gavi, which notes that under a partnership with UPS Foundation and Zipline, 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccines will be delivered using drones. The deliveries will take place over 'coming weeks and months' with the Government of Ghana overseeing the process.

Drones have proven vital to rapidly deliver medical supplies, samples, and more to remote regions where it would otherwise be difficult to deliver goods in a timely fashion. In this case, the process involved UPS delivering a shipment of the vaccines to the Expanded Programme on Immunization's National Cold Room in Ghana, where they're safely stored.

From there, smaller batches of the vaccines were delivered by UPS to regional cold points, then onward to four Zipline drone 'nests' where the autonomous aircraft are launched. The fixed-wing drones drop the carefully-packed vaccine payloads using parachutes, according to Gavi.

By the end of March 2, the day of the first delivery, a total of 36 drone shipments delivered 4,500 vaccine doses to remote healthcare facilities. This is a new milestone amid the pandemic, marking the first COVID-19 vaccination campaign that is 'partially drone-borne,' the vaccine alliance explains.