UPS Begins Delivering COVID-19 Vaccines with Drones in North Carolina

By Kelsey Reichmann | August 26, 2021
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UPS is using Matternet drones to deliver COVID vaccines in North Carolina. (UPS)

UPS and its subsidiary UPS Flight Forward have begun delivering COVID-19 vaccines using drones in a new partnership with Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist located in North Carolina, according to an Aug. 24 press release. 

“The delivery of COVID-19 vaccines by drone is an exciting and important step for UPS as we continue our near-perfect vaccine service delivery throughout the U.S. and around the world,” Dan Gagnon, vice president of UPS Healthcare, said in a statement. “We’re providing greater flexibility in how customers, and ultimately patients, receive temperature-controlled pharmaceuticals, which will continue to provide long-term value within the health care industry.”

The vaccines are being transported by a Matternet M2 drone that has been outfitted with a specialized cargo box with a temperature-sensitive packaging mixture, a PCM Gel solution supplied by Cold Chain Technologies. The gel solution keeps the vaccines between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius, and the cargo box also includes a temperature monitoring device to make sure the vaccine stays within the correct temperature range. 

A close up of the specialized cargo box featured on the UPS drones. (UPS)

“Distributing and protecting the integrity of the COVID-19 vaccine is our top priority and we’ve successfully completed multiple test flights to ensure that the vaccine remains at the appropriate temperature throughout transit,” Jennifer Tryon, chief pharmacy officer at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, said in a statement. “The ability to use a temperature monitoring device for our COVID-19 vaccine drone delivery program also opens the door for us to transport additional items which require maintenance of the cold chain.”

The drones used in this project will fly autonomously from Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to medical practices located at Piedmont Plaza, according to the release. UPS Flight Forward operators will be monitoring the autonomous flight, inspecting the Matternet M2 drones before takeoff, and watching for conflicting air traffic. 

UPS Drone delivers COVID vaccine to Piedmont Plaza. Natalie Russell, PharmD

“The WHO estimates that up to 50 percent of vaccines are wasted globally every year, largely due to temperature control failure,” Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO of Matternet, told Aviation Today in a statement. “The Matternet M2 drone’s speed and ability to maintain cold chain is especially important at a time of intense Covid-19 vaccine demand and more global approvals of cell and gene therapies and biologics requiring refrigerated and frozen storage than ever before.” 

Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and the practices receiving vaccines are operated through IQ Healthtech Labs. 

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