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UPS has begun using Matternet drones to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to a hospital in North Carolina.

Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist medical center is believed to be the first in the country to receive COVID-19 vaccine deliveries by drone.

Reduce waste

This new initiative — operated by UPS and its subsidiary, UPS Flight Forward — expands Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist’s existing drone program, which was launched in July 2020. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 50% of vaccines are wasted globally every year, largely due to temperature control failure, Matternet CEO Andreas Raptopoulos said in a statement.

When transporting the COVID-19 vaccines, the Matternet M2 drone is outfitted with a special cargo box that contains Cold Chain Technologies’ customized PCM Gel solution, a temperature-sensitive packaging mixture that maintains the COVID-19 vaccine at 2 degrees to 8 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees to 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit).

It also uses a temperature-monitoring device that monitors the vaccine’s temperature while in transit. The customized cold-chain packaging follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on the handling, storage, and transportation of the COVID-19 vaccine, the companies said.

A UPS Flight Forward drone from Matterport carries vaccines.

Above: A UPS Flight Forward drone from Matternet delivered these vaccines.

Image Credit: Matternet

Making deliveries

The UPS Flight Forward-operated drone, which flies autonomously and produces zero operational emissions, has the capability to deliver any of the COVID-19 vaccines from Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to one of the health system’s family medicine practices located at Piedmont Plaza.

Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist has provided nearly 100,000 total COVID-19 vaccinations to its employees, patients, and members of the community to date. The medical center has already tested multiple flights for the deliveries.

The autonomous flight is overseen by UPS Flight Forward’s specially trained operators, who are stationed onsite to inspect the Matternet M2 aircraft prior to takeoff and scan the airspace for air traffic.

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