Pfizer, BioNTech and Zipline deliver COVID-19 vaccines by drone in Ghana

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Drone delivery

Pfizer and BioNTech have completed long-range drone deliveries of their mRNA COVID-19 vaccine: with partner Zipline claiming to be the first to deliver vaccines in this way at a national scale.

The collaboration with logistics company Zipline has created an end-to-end vaccine delivery solution, allowing for the distribution of around 50,000 doses of the vaccine in Ghana under ultra-cold chain conditions (-90°C to -60°C).

“This partnership has paved the way for drone deliveries of all mRNA vaccines,”​ say the partners.

End-to-end delivery

Delivering vaccines to people in remote locations is a key challenge for global vaccination: particularly when vaccines require cold or ultra-cold storage.

Another challenge is that demand can fluctuate: requiring flexibility in deliveries.

Zipline, Pfizer and BioNTech have tested and validated the end-to-end model for delivery of mRNA vaccines with ultra-cold-chain requirements, and Zipline will now utilize it to distribute Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccines, as well as COVID-19 vaccines from all manufacturers, to regions across Ghana. 

The end-to-end model starts with the vaccine manufacturing facility in Europe and ends with the last-mile delivery in Ghana.

  1. Vaccines manufactured at Pfizer’s Puurs, Belgium facility
  2. Shipment via Pfizer’s qualified thermal shipping container with dry ice
  3. Vaccines arrive in Ghana’s capital, Accra, and then distributed to Zipline Distribution Centers across the country, which are equipped with Stirling Ultra-Low Storage Freezers.
  4. Vaccines thawed for storage at 2-8 degree C
  5. Delivery of up to 25, 2ml vials by autonomous aircraft in specially developed thermal packaging (designed against worst case summer and winter temperatures) to maintain vaccine temperature at 2-8 degree C for a minimum of four hours (exceeding flight times but allowing for drones to return back to the distribution center in the event of unplanned interruption).

The trials also assessed if drone deliveries were smooth enough for the fragile vials. Tests were carried out to assess shock and vibrations.

Shock and vibration profiles were found to be milder with drones than with steel-spring trucks.

The position paper outlining the end-to-end process can be found here.

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