Drone Vaccine Delivery to Begin in India
June 7, 2021
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by Snigdh Baunthiyal

India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation has permitted the country’s southern state of Telangana to carry out an experimental drone vaccine delivery. There is no confirmation of then the trial will start exactly. Bengaluru-based delivery startup Dunzo is set to begin as soon as the local authorities give their go-ahead.

What is the experimental trial all about
India has been seriously considering delivering vaccines using drones for quite some time now. Just last month, The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) announced that it has joined hands with Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur to test out drone delivery for Covid-19 vaccines. The testing is being carried out on university campus and will take place in two stages. In the first stage, the drone will be in sight of the operator and if that goes well, then in the second stage of testing, the drone will be allowed to carry the vaccine beyond visibility.

Kabeer Biswas, CEO and Founder, Dunzo Digital said in an article: “We believe our participation in the ‘Medicine from the Sky’ project will facilitate a more connected state and country, allowing people almost instantaneous access to vaccines and medicines from the most populous to most remote areas in India in the near future.”

What’s more, Dunzo reported a 350 percent growth in drugstore orders since the beginning of the year. As the second wave of the pandemic hit most of India’s major cities, the startup carried out more than 20 000 medical orders in the March to May period. That adds to the other range of services the delivery app provides, which can be anything from food to flowers.

Why drones?
As the second Covid wave recedes in India, many believe the country needs to speed up its inoculation programme. Calls from the opposition, for instance, have requested vaccination even to be free.

Using drones, may not come free of charge, but would help with faster delivery in remote areas and a wider reach in urban ones. Moreover, drone vaccine delivery may also help reduce the chance of infections by limiting exposure to other people. 

Challenges with drones
One of the biggest challenges for delivering vaccines through drones is maintaining the low temperature required for the vaccines to remain stable. 

Other factors are more logistical ones. If states are permitted to use drones, then the Indian Government and drone operators will have to come to an agreement on air space usage. 

Currently, one of the conditions for Telangana to use drones is that the maximum allowed height for drones is 400 feet above ground level.

India’s vaccine drive
On June 4, India had recorded about 225 million vaccines administered. With its large population, an increase in this preventive drive would help the nation be better prepared in case of a 3rd wave.

Have drones been used elsewhere?
Ghana’s government signed up with a drone delivery service to deliver COVAX vaccines to its remote areas. A report published in Forbes also claimed that using drones to deliver vaccine can also help cut costs by 20%. Ghana partnered with a US-based delivery service where the drones would hover over the ground and gently release the vaccines on the ground attached to a parachute. The programme appears to be a success so far.

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