Child receives world’s first drone-delivered vaccine

A one-month-old child has become the world’s first to be given a vaccine delivered commercially by drone.

On a remote island in the South Pacific country of Vanuatu, the delivery, executed by Swoop Aero, covered almost 40km of rugged mountainous terrain to reach Cook’s Bay where 13 children and five pregnant women were vaccinated by a registered nurse.

Due to its nature as a small, scattered community, Cook’s Bay does not have a health centre or electricity and has only previously been accessible by foot or small local boats.

UNICEF executive director, Henrietta Fore, said: “Today’s small flight by drone is a big leap for global health. With the world still struggling to immunise the hardest to reach children, drone technologies can be a game changer for bridging that last mile to reach every child.”

In tests last week, the Ministry of Health, with support from UNICEF, conducted drone trials with two drone operators, Swoop Aero and WingCopter, using test payloads.

Swoop Aero passed the first phase of trials by landing the payloads within 2 metres of the target after a 50km flight over numerous islands and way points.

This is also the first time globally that a government is contracting a commercial drone company to transport vaccines to remote areas.

In the long term, the Government of Vanuatu is interested in integrating the drone delivery of vaccines into their national immunisation programme and using drones more widely to distribute health supplies.