Drones may soon take Covid vaccines to India's remotest villages

The Telangana government has come up with a project called 'Medicine from the Sky' as part of which a three-phase trial is being conducted for vaccine delivery by drones

Drones may soon take Covid vaccines to India's remotest villages
The Drone Rules 2021 envisage medicine delivery by drones. Image courtesy: Twitter/@MoCA_GoI

India's fight against Covid-19 may soon get a massive boost with drones being used to deliver vaccines to healthcare centres in the remotest parts of the country. This would significantly bolster Covid vaccination coverage in the country, especially when there is still a long way to go before the entire population of the country is fully vaccinated, and with the fear of a third wave of the pandemic looming large.

Medicine from the Sky

The Telangana government has come up with a project called 'Medicine from the Sky' as part of which the Delhi-based drone delivery tech firm Skye Air Mobility has joined hands with logistics company Blue Dart for a three-phase trial to deliver vaccines by drones. The trial run has been planned to start from September 9, 2021, according to a Times of India report. 

Initially, each drone has been planned to carry 175 vaccines in boxes weighing 2-3kg, taking off from the Vikarabad District Hospital and making their way to primary healthcare centres at least 500m away. The drones would at first fly within line of sight, covering a distance of 1 km and then proceed to Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), looking to deliver vaccines to centres up to 10 km away in 20-25 minutes, according to Skye Air Mobility co-founder Swapnik Jakkampuddi. The drones are expected to hit an altitude of 400 feet.      

Gamechanger in vaccine delivery

The costly Covid jabs have, however, been kept out of this trial run, which would instead be conducted with other vaccines. Once this trial is successful, one can think about drone delivery of Covid vaccines. The technology can then be expanded to the entire country as well. Drones can be a gamechanger in delivering Covid vaccines to far-flung villages located in difficult terrains in the hills, islands and forested and riverine areas, which are often inaccessible by ordinary means. 

Indian aviation sector's help in Covid battle

Drone delivery of Covid vaccines would add another feather to the cap of the Indian aviation sector that has already played a stellar role in the success of India's inoculation programme. In January this year, SpiceJet planes carried the first lot of the Covishield vaccine from their manufacturing centre in Pune to Delhi to kick off the mega vaccination drive. The airline had tied up with logistics companies and those offering cold chain solutions for the transport of the vaccines. Subsequently, other airlines joined in the mission, carrying vaccines across the length and breadth of the country and even abroad. 

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Then when India was being buffeted by a crippling second wave of the pandemic a few months back and was facing a tremendous shortage of oxygen and other essential medical supplies, the Indian carriers rushed to carry out their national duty again, bringing in several tonnes of vital Covid aid from abroad. 

As of September 9, 2021 (7 am), India has administered as many as 71.65 crore Covid vaccines, according to Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) data. In the past 24 hours, 86.51 lakh doses had been given. The MoHFW announced earlier this month that in August, India had administered more doses of the Covid vaccines than all the G7 countries (Canada, the UK, the US, Italy, Germany, France and Japan) put together. 

India's mega Covid vaccination drive has been propped up to a large extent as a result of the quick and efficient transportation of the vaccines by air.

To ensure vaccination for all

With drones, the idea would be to connect the last mile. Drones would carry the vaccines right to healthcare centres in the villages, making them easily accessible to an even larger number of the population, who might have stayed out of the vaccination ambit otherwise. Quick drone delivery would also allay a lot of worries involved in the transportation of these temperature-sensitive vaccines.  

Drones, in fact, have a huge role to play in carrying healthcare and medical aid to every doorstep. They can help in the quick movement of organs for transplant from airports to hospitals, helping in saving more lives. Also, essential and life-saving drugs can be quickly sent to even the remotest places. No time would be wasted stuck in traffic jams, for instance. 

Liberalised drone policy  

India, last month, notified a new and liberalised drone policy. Under the Drone Rules 2021, a drone operator would not need security clearance before registering a drone or applying for a licence. The new drone rules abolish the requirement for several approvals, including those for a unique authorisation number, a prototype identification number, certificate of manufacturing and airworthiness, certificate of conformance, certificate of maintenance, import clearance, acceptance of existing drones, operator permits, authorisation of R&D organisation, student remote pilot licence, remote pilot instructor authorisation and drone port authorisation. The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) would also facilitate the development of drone corridors for cargo deliveries. Air taxis, like Uber and Ola cabs on the roads, may also be facilitated by the drone rules in the coming days.  

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"Drone Rules 2021-- A horizon of opportunities. Drones offer benefits to many sectors of the economy like agriculture, infrastructure, surveillance, emergency response, transportation, geo-spatial mapping, law enforcement etc and can significantly impact employment and economic growth," tweeted the MoCA. It pointed towards the "vivid usage of drones" for emergency medical relief and medicine delivery, among other things.