Zipline Drones to Deliver COVID-19 Vaccines

By Kelsey Reichmann | February 4, 2021
Send Feedback

Zipline, a drone delivery service, has partnered with a major COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer to create a cold chain capable vaccine distribution network using drones.

Zipline, a drone delivery service, has partnered with a major COVID-19 vaccine supplier to create a cold chain capable vaccine distribution network using drones, the company announced on Feb. 4. This service could be operational in the countries Zipline serves as soon as April of this year.

The partnership will increase the accessibility of COVID-19 vaccines in remote areas and eliminate the need for ultra-low freezers at distribution centers. The vaccine manufacturer, who Zipline did not identify, will work with Zipline to create an end-to-end process for a temperature-controlled vaccine distribution solution. Zipline has previous experience with routine vaccine delivery and has delivered over one million routine vaccines to date.

“Where you live shouldn’t determine whether or not you get a COVID-19 vaccine. Rural areas across the world are being hit hard by this virus,” Zipline CEO Keller Rinaudo said in a press statement. “These communities face great challenges. We can help health systems bypass infrastructure and supply chain challenges through instant delivery.”

The operation will involve a single distribution center consisting of a medical fulfillment warehouse and drone airport. From the distribution center, Zipline will be able to micro-target delivery of more than two tons of temperature-controlled medicine across an about 8,000 square mile service area within a week using 30 drones, according to the company. Zipline drones have a range of 100 miles round trip and can complete on-demand deliveries in 30 to 45 minutes.

An image of Zipline’s drone flight operations featured on its website.

The equitable distribution of vaccines has already become a problem in the U.S. In December, the Texas Department of State Health excluded rural hospitals in the state from shipments of the vaccines because of the logistical challenges with distribution, Houston Public Media reported.

Both of the vaccines approved for use in the U.S., made by the companies Pfizer and Moderna, require strict temperature requirements. These requirements have made vaccines difficult to distribute in some areas. Being able to distribute the vaccines via drones would allow harder to reach areas the ability to get the vaccine without the need for special refrigeration methods. The on-demand delivery would also ensure that vaccines were distributed when they were needed and that they do not go to waste.

A representative from Zipline told Avionics International that they are working with government entities where they are operating on this project. Zipline is currently progressing towards FAA type certification of its drones and air carrier certification for U.S. operations.

Zipline currently operates in the United States and Africa. In 2020 they delivered personal protective equipment to frontline medical workers in North Carolina and COVID-19 test samples to labs in Ghana. On Feb. 3, Zipline announced an expansion of services to Nigeria.


Receive the latest avionics news right to your inbox