Vaccines Delivered by Drones to Children in Remote Pacific Islands

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One-month-old Joy Nowai, held by her mother, Julie Nowai, receives vaccines from registered nurse Miriam Nampil
Source: Amy Held, “Drones Deliver Vaccines on Island Nation of Vanuatu,” npr.org, Dec. 21, 2018

Vanuatu’s government launched a vaccine delivery program using drones to reach children in remote parts of the island nation. The country is made up of 83 Pacific islands and only 20 of the 65 inhabited islands have airfields or established roads. Refrigeration, needed for vaccines to remain stable, is also limited, making transporting and storing vaccines difficult.

The Ministry of Health and the Civil Aviation Authority got support for the program from UNICEF, the Australian Government, and the nonprofit Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Drone companies Swoop Aero and Wingcopter have been contracted to deliver the vaccines.

Swoop Aero drones delivered vaccines to Cook’s Bay on Dec. 18, 2018 in the first trial run. Cook’s Bay is only accessible by foot or boat, and does not have electricity or a health center. Registered nurse Miriam Nampil vaccinated 13 children and five pregnant women. She stated, “It’s extremely hard to carry ice boxes to keep the vaccines cool while walking across rivers, mountains, across rocky ledges. I’ve relied on boats, which often get cancelled due to bad weather… But with these drones, we hope to reach many more children in the remotest areas of the island.”

According to UNICEF, one-month-old baby named Joy Nowai became the first person ever to be vaccinated with a vaccine delivered by commercial drone when she received her hepatitis and tuberculosis vaccines. Joy missed her birth vaccinations because her mother would have had to carry her on a 25-mile walk across rugged land to get the vaccines. With the drone delivery, Joy’s mother only had to walk 15 minutes from her home.

Henrietta H. Fore, MPA, Executive Director of UNICEF, stated, “Today’s first-of-a-kind vaccine delivery has enormous potential not only for Vanuatu, but also for the thousands of children who are missing out on vaccines across the world. This is innovation at its best, and shows how we can unlock the potential of the private sector for the greater good of the world’s children.”

The drones will be able to make two deliveries a day, flying up to 62 miles while carrying about 5.5 pounds. Challenges the program faces include whether the drones will be able to fly well during the common storms and high winds, keeping the temperature of the vaccines stable at higher altitudes, and whether the communities will accept the idea of drones, the likes of which most have never seen.

Discussion Questions
1. Are drones an effective way to deliver vaccines to remote places? Why or why not?

2. What do you think the results of the drone vaccines program will be? Consider both positive and negative potential outcomes.

3. Are there other programs drones could help with other than vaccine delivery? Consider government, nonprofit, and commercial programs.

Sources:

Sam Blum, “Drone-Delivered Vaccines Are Launching a New Era of Health Aid,” popularmechanics.com, Dec. 18, 2018

Dateline Pacific, “Vanuatu Trials Drones to Transport Childhood Vaccines,” radionz.co.nz, Dec. 7, 2018

Amy Held, “Drones Deliver Vaccines on Island Nation of Vanuatu,” npr.org, Dec. 21, 2018

Donald G. McNeil Jr., “An Island Nation’s Health Experiment: Vaccines Delivered by Drone,” nytimes.com, Dec. 17, 2018

Matt Novak, “Drone Delivers Vaccines for Baby in Island-Nation of Vanuatu in Historic Flight,” gizmodo.com, Dec. 18, 2018

Chloe Taylor, “Drones Deliver Vaccines to One-Month Old Baby in Remote Island of Vanuatu,” cnbc.com, Dec. 19, 2018

Holly Robertson, “Vaccines Delivered by Drone to Remote Vanuatu Island in World-First Trial,” abc.net.au, Dec. 19, 2018

Eleanor Ainge Roy, “Drones to Deliver Vaccines in Vanuatu in World-First Trial,” theguardian.com, Oct. 31, 2018

UNICEF, “Child Given World’s First Drone-Delivered Vaccine in Vanuatu – UNICEF,” unicef.org, Dec. 18, 2018