Japan says it has to throw away millions of Pfizer COVID-19 shots because it doesn't have enough syringes to extract them

  • Japan secured 144 million Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses, but may only be able to use 120 million.
  • The country lacks enough special syringes to extract the sixth dose out of each vial, its health minister said.
  • The US and the EU have also been scrambling to get enough low dead-space syringes. 
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Millions of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine doses are likely to be thrown away in Japan because the country doesn’t have enough special syringes to extract the final dose from each vial, according to Kyodo News. 

Pfizer’s two-shot vaccine is sold in vials containing six doses, but extracting the sixth dose requires a special syringe called a low-dead space syringe.

And because Japan doesn’t have enough of those special syringes, it will likely only be able to extract five doses per vial, its health minister said.

“The syringes used in Japan can only draw five doses. 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,” Norihisa Tamura said Tuesday, according to Kyodo News.

According to Kyodo News, Japan announced last month that it had made a deal with Pfizer to buy 144 million shots — but without enough syringes to extract final doses, the country will have to revise the number of deliverable doses to 120 million.

That change in estimate means that 60 million people would be able to be vaccinated with the Pfizer shot in Japan, compared to the original 72 million people.

The Japanese government has urged medical-equipment manufacturers to increase production of these special syringes, Kyodo News reported.

Read more: What’s coming next for COVID-19 vaccines? Here’s the latest on 11 leading programs.

The syringe shortage is not unique problem to Japan. The US and the EU have also been working to get enough dead-space syringes to extract the full amount of doses from Pfizer’s vaccine vials. 

Last month, Sweden froze payments to Pfizer to figure out whether it was being overcharged for the vaccines. They had forged a deal based on there being five doses in each vial, but when Pfizer realized that a sixth dose could be extracted, the pharmaceutical company updated the cost based on that.

But like Japan, Sweden said it did not have enough special syringes to get all six doses out of each vial, and felt that it should only be charged for five.

Japan’s prime minister said Wednesday that the country’s inoculation program would kick off next week, starting with 10,000 to 20,000 frontline health workers, according Channel News Asia. 

After a study to verify the vaccine’s safety, Japan aims to start inoculating all people aged 65 and older starting from the end of April, according to Kyodo News.

Japanese residents aged between 16 and 59 expect not to receive their vaccine shots until around July, when Tokyo hopes to hold the postponed Summer Olympics, The Guardian reported.

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