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World first: child in Vanuatu receives the first ever drone-delivered vaccine

Drone technology is proving a game changer when it comes to immunising the world's hardest-to-reach children

On a remote island of the South Pacific country of Vanuatu, one-month-old Joy Nowai became the world's first child to be given a vaccine delivered commercially by drone.

The vaccine delivery covered almost 40 kilometres of rugged mountainous terrain from Dillons Bay on the west side of the island to the east landing in remote Cooks Bay, where 13 children and five pregnant women were vaccinated by Miriam Nampil, a registered nurse.

Cooks Bay, a small, scattered community that does not have a health centre or electricity, is only accessible by foot or small local boats.

drone vaccine delivery
drone vaccine delivery

Joy Nowai becomes the world's first child to be given a vaccine delivery by drone

Registered nurse, Miriam Nampil, administers the first vaccine delivery in Cooks Bay, Vanuatu.
Registered nurse, Miriam Nampil, administers the first vaccine delivery in Cooks Bay, Vanuatu.

Joy Nowai (1-month-old) is protected against Tuberculosis and Hepatitis B thanks to a drone delivered vaccine.

The small flight by drone is a big leap for global health said Henrietta H. Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. 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.

Vaccines are difficult to transport as they need to be carried at specific temperatures. Warm weather locations like Vanuatu, which is made up of more than 80 remote, mountainous islands stretching across 1,300 kilometres and with limited roads, is a particularly difficult location for vaccine delivery. As a result, almost 20 per cent of the country's children or 1 in 5 miss out on their essential childhood vaccines.

For the greater good of the world's children, extremely hard to carry ice boxes are used to keep vaccines cool while walking across rivers, mountains, through the rain, across rocky ledges. We've relied on boats, which often get cancelled due to bad weather, said Miriam Nampil, the nurse who injected the world's first drone-delivered vaccine. As the journey is often long and difficult, I can only go there once a month to vaccinate children. But now, with these drones, we can hope to reach many more children in the remotest areas of the island.

Drone delivers vaccines in Vanuatu
Drone delivers vaccines in Vanuatu

During the drone flight on Erromango, the vaccines were carried in Styrofoam boxes with icepacks with a temperature logger. An electronic indicator is triggered if the temperature of the vaccines swings out of acceptable range. In tests previously, the Ministry of Health, with support from UNICEF, conducted drone trials with two drone operators, Swoop Aero and WingCopter, using test payloads. SwoopAero, the Australian company responsible for the successful drone delivery, passed the first phase of trials by landing the payloads within two meters of the target after a 50-km 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. The drone operators are selected after a bidding process, and as per the contract, they are held accountable and not paid if they don't deliver. 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. The data from the trials will also be used to show how drones can be used commercially in similar settings around the world. Today's first-of-a-kind vaccine delivery has enormous potential not only for Vanuatu, but also for the thousands of children who are missing out on vaccines across the world added Fore.

This is innovation at its best, and shows how we can unlock the potential of the private sector for the greater good of the world's children.

World's first drone delivery of life-saving vaccines to children in Vanuatu.
World's first drone delivery of life-saving vaccines to children in Vanuatu.

The drone and pilots tasked with delivering life-saving vaccines to children in remote islands in Vanuatu.