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Zipline, a drone to deliver Covid vaccines

While much of the talk these days revolves around the lack of availability of Covid vaccines, the logistical challenges involved in delivering the vaccines have received very little attention. One drone delivery service has addressed this problem by using its innovative technology to deliver vaccines to remote or inaccessible areas. That company is Zipline, and Ghana is the first country in the world to use its fleet of drones on a national scale to deliver the much-needed vaccines.
Zipline, a drone to deliver Covid vaccines
Zipline, a drone to deliver Covid vaccines

California-based start-up Zipline is no stranger to delivering medical products to areas with poor road infrastructure or complicated terrain; it has been doing exactly that since 2016. It is in Rwanda, the country of a thousand hills, that it first trialled its system for distributing blood products with a limited lifespan and which must be kept at a specific temperature.

Express and contactless delivery

The drone it designed for this purpose does not look like a conventional drone, but rather like a giant tadpole. Made of a carbon fibre and Kevlar-reinforced composite and polystyrene for lightness and strength, the "Zip" has a large wingspan (almost 2.5 m) but weighs only 10 kg.

The drone can carry 1.3 kilos of medicine or blood and has a range of 120 kilometres. Zipline is equipped with GPS and uses the country's cellular network to move around with great precision. Launched using a catapult system, it can travel a distance of about 70 km in 30 minutes while flying at an altitude of 100 metres. It then approaches the ground to release its packages - whose fall is cushioned by a disposable paper parachute - before returning to its base and being picked up by medical staff.

Ghana is the first country to deliver Covid vaccines by drone

This time it is in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic that Zipline is deploying its ingenious logistics. Faced with problems relatively identical to those in Rwanda, the Ghanaian government has also chosen to call on the Californian start-up to deliver, first the tests, and now the Covid vaccines. About 2.5 million doses should be delivered throughout Ghana using these drones, which can now fly at 120 km/h and carry a weight of 4 kilos.

“Not only does this make Ghana the first country in the world to deploy drones nationwide for COVID-19 vaccine delivery, but it is also a huge effort to ensure equitable access and enable Ghana to fully utilise its healthcare infrastructure to deliver vaccines”, Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo said in a statement.

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