Zipline is using drones to deliver frozen vaccines to remote clinics

One of the most challenging aspects of transporting and maintaining Covid-19 vaccines is that they need to be stored in frozen temperatures. The Pfizer vaccine, for instance, must be stored at a bone-chilling minus 70 degrees Celsius. This makes transporting the vaccines to remote locations a logistical nightmare.

In order to help countries such as Rwanda, Ghana, Tanzania, and even rural America transport vaccines as quickly as possible so that they don’t unfreeze, drone delivery service Zipline is rising up to the occasion—literally.

This spring, Zipline will store vaccines in ultra-cold freezers at strategically-placed distribution centers where they will be ready for transport. When a remote clinic needs vaccines, they can place an order to one of these distribution centers where the vaccine will be placed inside a box that tracks the temperature and keeps the vaccine cold. From there, the drones can make the delivery within roughly half an hour, dropping them from the sky via a mini-parachute.

The storage boxes that the drones carry won’t be able to prevent the vaccines from starting to thaw, but because they can be delivered so quickly, the shots can be administered before the vaccines expire.

The Zipline delivery service has been active in Africa since 2014 and already has quite some infrastructure set up, so pivoting to Covid-19 vaccines shouldn’t be so much of a problem. In fact, Zipline has already delivered 1.5 million doses of other types of vaccines in Africa. The drone delivery service is especially useful there as many remote areas do not have reliable electricity.

Zipline can also be a major asset for small towns in rural America where hundreds of larger hospitals have shut down in the last year due to struggling finances. Many that are still operating often don’t have enough money to afford the expensive freezers needed to keep vaccines cold. Through Zipline, hospitals can overcome this issue by having drones deliver vaccines to hospitals from distribution centers that do have the necessary freezers.

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