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Plans afoot to deliver Covid vaccines by drones

As per specifications spelt out by the Centre, the UAV should take off vertically, carry a minimum payload of 4 Kgs and should be capable of returning to home or the command station after delivery of the payload.

June 13, 2021 / 12:25 PM IST

The Centre has come up with a novel plan to deliver Covid-19 vaccines by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to areas in the country with difficult terrains, after a study by the Indian Institute of Technology, (IIT) Kanpur said it is feasible.

The HLL Infra Tech Services Limited, a subsidiary of Government-owned HLL Lifecare which is procuring all vaccines in the country for the government, has on the behalf of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) invited an Expression of Interest (EOI) on Friday (June 11) for delivery of vaccines and drugs by UAVs to select locations in India which have difficult terrains. So far, only Telangana was toying with this idea of UAV Vaccine delivery.

UAVs have been sought by ICMR which can travel upto 35 kms with the supplies and fly at an altitude of at least 100 meters. News18 has a copy of the document, which invites bids by June 22. "To strengthen the delivery of vaccines, ICMR has successfully conducted a feasibility study to deliver vaccines by UAVs in collaboration with IIT, Kanpur," the bid document mentions.

ICMR has developed a standard protocol on basis of that study for the successful delivery of vaccines using a UAV and is now looking to develop a model for vaccine delivery by UAV in the field practice area "to reach inaccessible (hard to reach) areas to cover last-mile coverage at difficult terrain in selected locations", the EOI says.

How the UAVs will work

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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As per specifications spelt out by the Centre, the UAV should take off vertically, carry a minimum payload of 4 Kgs and should be capable of returning to home or the command station after delivery of the payload. "Take off and Landing will be as per DGCA guidelines. Parachute based delivery will not be preferred," the document says, saying the UAV must land safely with the vaccines.

The UAV must be enabled for constant tracking, navigation and communication with the base station. "UAV should be able to follow a predefined flight plan and have real-time visibility of adherence to flight plan. The UAV must follow fully autonomous take-off, flight and landing along GPS way-points," the document has specified.

UAV must have multiple fail-safe options and follow DGCA norms.

The Genesis of the Idea

Senior officials said with the vaccination exercise spreading far and wide to rural areas, it is anticipated that supply of vaccines to mountainous regions and remote areas could become a challenge. "The ICMR has always attempted to address itself to the growing demands of scientific advances in biomedical research on the one hand and to the need of finding practical solutions to the health problems of the country, on the other," the bid document says.

Hence, ICMR is looking to engage UAV operators to operate "Beyond Visual Line of Site (BVLOS)" in fixed pre-defined and pre-approved flight paths and deliver Medical Supply payloads like Vaccines and drugs to selected locations in India and return to the command station. "The UAV operator must adhere to safety guidelines as per the regulations of DGCA and a prior approval from DGCA will be preferred," the bid document says.
Aman Sharma is a writer at News18
first published: Jun 13, 2021 10:23 am

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