First in the US: COVID-19 Vaccines Delivered via Drone

UPS Flight Forward expands Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist’s existing drone program.Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and its healthtech business enterprise operated through the Innovation Quarter, iQ Healthtech Labs, have collaborated to create the first COVID-19 vaccine drone delivery program in the country. The new initiative—operated by UPS and its subsidiary, UPS Flight Forward—expands Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist’s existing drone program that was launched in July 2020.

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 to 8 degrees Celsius, and a device that monitors the vaccine’s temperature while in transit. The customized cold chain packaging follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on the handling, storage and transportation of the COVID-19 vaccine.

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 Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center to the health system’s family medicine practice located at Winston-Salem’s Piedmont Plaza.

“Adding 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,” said Conrad Emmerich, senior vice president of supply chain at Atrium Health. “The iQ Healthtech Lab team is committed to partnering with industry leaders, like UPS, to better advance healthtech solutions into the marketplace.”