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Pros and cons of delivering covid-19 vaccines via drones

Some foreign countries have been working on vaccine delivery using drones. For instance, Ghana has started off one of the largest drone delivery vaccine networks in the world. Ghana’s government has tapped US-based firm Zipline to deliver the first vaccines supplied to Africa by the COVAX initiative of WHO to ensure that developing countries have access to covid-19 vaccines. (Reuters)Premium
Some foreign countries have been working on vaccine delivery using drones. For instance, Ghana has started off one of the largest drone delivery vaccine networks in the world. Ghana’s government has tapped US-based firm Zipline to deliver the first vaccines supplied to Africa by the COVAX initiative of WHO to ensure that developing countries have access to covid-19 vaccines. (Reuters)

The ministry of civil aviation and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has given conditional exemption to the Telangana government to deliver covid vaccines using drones

NEW DELHI : The ministry of civil aviation and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has given conditional exemption to the Telangana government to deliver covid vaccines using drones.

The Centre has also allowed the Indian Council of Medical Research to conduct a feasibility study on vaccine delivery using drones in collaboration with IIT Kanpur for one year or until further orders.

Mint explores the pros and cons of such a a move, and whether it could be a reality.

How will the delivery of vaccines using drones help?

Vaccinating over a billion people is a huge challenge for the government, which is primarily relying on the extensive railway network, besides road and air transport to distribute vaccines even to the remotest parts of the country and hilly regions.

However, looking at the logistics nightmare, every possible option for vaccine delivery is being considered. Feasibility studies are being conducted to devise a system for efficient transportation of vaccines using drones, especially for far flung areas, where logistic channels are limited, said a senior DGCA official.

What are the major criteria for the feasibility studies?

The study at the IIT-Kanpur campus will involve a graded approach. In the first phase, the drone will be operated within the visual line of sight, before the next stage of trials can kick in involving a flight path which is beyond the line of sight of the drone operator.

If the two stages are completed successfully, further clearance will be sought from the authorities to explore the possibility of vaccine delivery using drones.

Have vaccines been delivered by drones elsewhere?

Some countries have been working on vaccine delivery using drones. For instance, Ghana has started one of the largest drone delivery vaccine networks, globally. It used the services of US’s Zipline to deliver vaccines supplied to Africa as part of the COVAX initiative, which is supported by the World Health Organization to ensure developing nations have access to covid-19 vaccines. Zipline has used drones to distribute blood and drugs in Rwanda, and medical supplies and PPE kits in North Carolina.

What are the major challenges?

India’s armed forces have been using drones with payload delivery capability since 2000 and the lessons learnt can help mitigate some of the challenges. However, a key issue for transporting vaccines using drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is maintaining low temperature during the transportation of vaccine vials.

Besides, the government and drone operators will have to reach an agreement on emergency airspace usage for vaccine transportation, said Mark Martin, chief executive of aviation consultancy firm Martin Consultancy LLC.

As part of the covid vaccine transportation initiative, India has the potential of using up to five UAV or drone per district with a range of 80km and with a payload of 10 kg and endurance of two hours. With 718 districts in India, 3,600 drones can be deployed to distribute an effective weight of vaccines via each flight, or 15,000 kg vaccine distribution capability in a single day, Martin added.

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