UPS Starts Drone Delivery of COVID Vaccines

A drone at the delivery zone. (Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist)

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UPS Inc. started delivering coronavirus vaccines with the use of drones as part of a new initiative announced Aug. 24.

Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist is spearheading the project. The academic medical center and health system first launched a drone program in July 2020.

UPS, and its subsidiary UPS Flight Forward, were picked to help expand the existing drone program to deliver vaccines.

A woman handles one of the drones. (Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist)

“The ability and ingenuity to add an innovative layer to our health care supply chain by transporting COVID-19 vaccines via drone provides us with additional rapid delivery options for these time- and temperature-sensitive vaccines,” Conrad Emmerich, senior vice president of supply chain at Atrium Health, said in a statement.

Atrium Health launched the program with its health tech business enterprise iQ Healthtech Labs. The plan is to have the drones deliver the vaccines from the main medical center in Winston-Salem, N.C., to one of the health system’s family medicine practices.

“The delivery of COVID-19 vaccines by drone is an exciting and important step for UPS as we continue our near-perfect vaccine service delivery throughout the U.S. and around the world,” said Dan Gagnon, vice president of UPS Healthcare, in a statement. “We’re providing greater flexibility in how customers, and ultimately patients, receive temperature-controlled pharmaceuticals, which will continue to provide long-term value within the health care industry.”

The Matternet M2 drone was picked for the program. It is outfitted with a special cargo box that contains Cold Chain Technologies’ customized PCM Gel solution, a temperature-sensitive packaging mixture and temperature monitoring. It also flies autonomously and produces zero operational emissions.

UPS had already been working with the medical center on vaccine distribution. Atrium Health started receiving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine through UPS in December.

UPS Inc. ranks No. 1 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in North America.

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