Medical Drone Startup to Begin Covid Vaccine Delivery in April

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Zipline Inc., a drone delivery service that specializes in medical supplies, announced Thursday that it plans to begin transporting COVID-19 vaccines in April. The South San Francisco-based startup said in a release that it is partnering with “a leading manufacturer of COVID-19 vaccines” in all of the markets where its drones currently operate. Zipline has been delivering medicine and supplies to rural clinics in Rwanda and Ghana since 2016 and, last year, began delivering personal protective equipment to hospitals and clinics in North Carolina. It plans to add operations in Nigeria later this year. 

Zipline declined to specify its vaccine partner but said it has built a system that can deliver ultra-low temperature medical supplies, including “all leading COVID-19 vaccines.” The vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE must be stored in extreme cold at temperatures of negative 70 degrees Celsius, requiring special freezers.  Zipline plans to add these ultra cold refrigerators at all of its distribution centers.

Pfizer, responding to an earlier request for comment about whether it is working with Zipline, on Thursday said in a statement, “Pfizer supports Zipline’s efforts to expand access to vaccines and medicines to those in hard to reach geographies.”

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Vaccine distribution sites without ultra-low refrigeration have limited options: They can forego Pfizer’s vaccine entirely opting for the Moderna Inc. alternative and hoping for additional vaccines from Johnson & Johnson and others to gain FDA approval; keep Pfizer’s vaccine vials on dry ice for up to 30 days; or keep them in standard refrigerators for up to five days. Zipline can help bypass the need for freezers — and prevent vaccines from spoiling — by repeatedly supplying a small numbers of doses on demand. A clinic in its network, the company says, will be able to request a few dozen doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and receive them at an ultra low temperature in less than an hour. 

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Source: Ira Boudway, Bloomberg

Photo credit: Press



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