Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Drone Delivery of Vaccines Would Be Cost-Effective

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Drone Delivery of Vaccines Would Be Cost-Effective

Article excerpt

Logic might dictate that unmanned drones could better deliver vaccines in developing countries when compared with ground-based transportation.

Going over rather than through areas featuring rough roads, difficult terrain including mountains and jungles, and areas of unrest or open warfare would seem to represent the better choice.

Now a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center in Oakland published June 20 in the journal Vaccine concludes that drones could deliver vaccines more quickly and cheaply than ground-based transportation under a wide range of conditions.

Using the HERMES computer modeling program it developed, the team compared drone-based and ground-based vaccine delivery involving cars, trucks and motorcycles in one province of Mozambique.

At issue is the delivery of vaccines for hepatitis B, tetanus, measles and rotavirus, among others, with future use for potentially new vaccines such as those for dengue, malaria and Zika. Currently vials of vaccines are transported from one storage location to the next, eventually reaching centers where health workers can vaccinate patients. Most vaccines must be refrigerated to prevent spoilage.

But the cost of ground-based distribution continues to rise, with increases jeopardizing immunization rates.

The study, however, shows that drone deliveries likely would be faster while saving 8 cents a dose with successful vaccination of 96 percent of the population rather than the current potential rate of 94 percent with ground transportation. What might sound like insignificant results actually represent sizable savings for low-income nations, with a 2 percent increase representing thousands and even millions of additional immunizations.

"Implementing an [unmanned aerial system] could increase vaccine availability and decrease costs in a wide range of settings and circumstances if the drones are used frequently enough to overcome the capital costs of installing and maintaining the system," the study concludes. "Our computational model showed that the major drivers of cost savings from using the [drones] are road speed of traditional land vehicles, the number of people needing to be vaccinated, and the distance that needs to be traveled. …

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