Using unmanned drones to deliver vaccines in low- and middle-income countries may save money and improve vaccination rates, new research led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center suggests.
The cost savings would come from drones being able to deliver vaccines more quickly and cheaply than land-based methods limited by road conditions and the need for costly fuel and maintenance, the researchers note in their study, published June 20 in the journal Vaccine.
“Many low- and middle-income countries are struggling to get lifesaving vaccines to people to keep them from getting sick or dying from preventable diseases,” says senior author Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, an associate professor at the Bloomberg School and director of operations research at its International Vaccine Access Center. “You make all these vaccines but they’re of no value if we don’t get them to the people who need them. So there is an urgent need to find new, cost-effective ways to do this.”
In low- and middle-income countries, there are many challenges faced by immunization programs, which provide childhood vaccines such as hepatitis B, tetanus, measles and rotavirus, and will be utilized in the future as vaccines for dengue, malaria and Zika are developed and brought to market. After entering a country, vaccine vials typically travel by road through two to four storage locations before arriving at clinics where health workers administer doses to patients. Most vaccines need to remain refrigerated until they are used or they will spoil. Non-vaccine costs of routine immunizations are expected to rise by 80 percent between 2010 and 2020, with more than one-third of costs attributable to supply chain logistics. Supply chain inefficiencies can mean that many vaccines don’t even reach the people who need them.