Robot Drones Are Delivering COVID-19 Vaccines To Remote Parts Of Africa

zipline ghana drones deliver covid-19 vaccines
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance/YouTube

While some might worry about the future of drones, they’re providing a better present-day experience for people in Africa looking to get COVID-19 vaccines. As The Verge chronicled, Ghana is currently utilizing drones to more effectively move vaccines, thanks to its relationship with an American company.

Zipline, Inc.

Zipline started couriering medical supplies like blood and drugs in Rwanda in 2016. It then expanded its operations to Tanzania in 2017, Ghana in 2019, and inside the U.S. this past May, when it began delivering medical supplies and PPE in North Carolina.

Ghana’s government is now working with Zipline to deliver the first vaccines supplied to Africa by the COVAX initiative, a World Health Organization (WHO) initiative launched to bring COVID-19 vaccines to developing nations.

“The reason Ghana was the first country to receive the COVAX vaccine is that they had the strongest application, and the reason they had the strongest application is they can guarantee the delivery of this vaccine to any health facility or hospital in the country at low cost and very high reliability,” said Zipline’s CEO Keller Rinaudo, explaining how his company’s involvement contributed.

Zipline operates four distribution centers in Ghana, each of which is a combination drone airport and medical warehouse, housing a fleet of 30 fixed-wing drones and medical supplies. The centers help enable a drone to fly to its destination on its own, drop off packages via parachute, and return home.

New Atlas reported the drops started earlier this month, with 250 vaccine doses delivered by parachute to a rural health center, one of 36 deliveries completed on the initiative’s first day.

It’s estimated close to 1,000 health centers throughout Ghana are now served by the drone delivery service.

Zipline’s Caitlin Burton remarked that this form of distribution system allows for precise, timely deliveries of vaccines to remote areas.

“Being able to use every point of care in the health system to get people vaccinated — that’s the strategy here,” says Burton. “We’ll be sending exactly the number of doses needed — the chain of custody is very short, and the cold chain is one hundred percent guaranteed.”


Written by Phil West