Drones Might Save Money, But They Can Also Save Lives

As the concept of unmanned aerial vehicle technology grows closer to reality, drones are showing exciting potential to deliver life-saving vaccines to the far reaches of the planet.

Drone technology is already overcoming some of the barriers preventing it from being used to transport vaccines – namely that vaccines must be kept at certain temperatures and must travel over long distances of remote areas. In addition, plenty of natural factors such as animals and poor weather conditions can make it difficult for drones to bring vaccines to the people who need them.

However, as firms such as Matternet, Flirtey and Zipline continue to overcome these barriers, some longstanding vaccine distribution issues could be overcome sooner rather than later.

One of the biggest obstacles has always been transportation, with many vaccines failing to reach their destination due to rough terrain and vehicle and personnel issues. This results in preventable deaths and vaccine wastage.

Models Show Cost-Saving Potential

The HERMES software platform was used to create a virtual representation of every single aspect of the vaccine supply chain, including each refrigerator and freezer, vehicle, location, personnel and drone involved in every step of the process. They compared a model of the Mozambique vaccine supply chain using land-based transportation to one using drones.

They found that drones did improve vaccine availability thanks to their ability to fly more frequently and meet urgent or changing demand. It also amounted to cost savings of $0.08 per vaccine, which might not seem like a lot but adds up to significant savings over the course of the tens of hundreds of millions of vaccines that are delivered each year. In fact, they found that switching to a drone system for vaccine delivery could ultimately end up paying for itself.

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