Japan will to have to throw away millions of ordered Pfizer vaccine doses due to a shortage of specialized syringes, according to the country’s health minister, Norihisa Tamura.
Pfizer’s vaccine is sold in vials containing six doses, which require a special low dead-space syringe, designed with a narrow plunger that can push out the last dose.
The government had ordered 144 million doses of the vaccine, meant for 72 million people, keeping in mind that each vial holds six doses.
However, the shortage of special syringes means that healthcare workers will have to use standard syringes, which draw only five doses — enough for 60 million people.
“The syringes used in Japan can only draw five doses,” Tamura was quoted by Kyodo news agency. “We will use all the syringes we have that can draw six doses but it will, of course, not be enough as more shots are administered.”
The Japanese government has asked medical-equipment manufacturers to increase production of these special syringes, the agency reported.
The U.S. and several European Union countries have also encountered a shortage of low dead space syringe supplies and have been working to increase production of the equipment.
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Last month, Sweden froze payments to Pfizer to investigate whether the government was being overcharged for the vaccines. The government had ordered the vaccines on the assumption that there would be five doses per vial. However, when the pharmaceutical company discovered that a sixth dose could be extracted from the vial, it updated the cost of the order.
Sweden, however, said it did not have the syringes needed to extract all six doses and argued that it should only be charged for five.
Now, when the country starts its inoculation campaign on Feb. 17, health workers will have to discard the sixth dose of vaccine in every bottle, Katsunobu Kato, the government spokesman, said.
Officials will first immunize 10,000 to 20,000 frontline health workers and after monitoring their condition for any side effects, will vaccinate another 3.7 million health workers from mid-March.
The country’s 36 million seniors will not receive their vaccinations until early April. The rest of the general population will have to wait until July.