Analysis: 'Russian roulette' in Europe as needle shortages hamper COVID-19 shots
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Laurent Fignon, a geriatric doctor in the south of France, is having to improvise as he gives shots of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech to care home residents and health staff because supplies of the right needles and syringes are short.
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Getting the full six doses from vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot – as allowed this month by the European Union’s health regulator – requires needles that are both thin enough to minimize waste and long enough to deliver the jab, as required, into the recipient’s shoulder muscle.
Fignon’s hospital in the Mediterranean resort of Cannes was sent needles from the French public health authority that were too short, he said, forcing it to hunt locally for supplies. Other nearby hospitals got the right needles and were generous enough to share some.
“To us, it looks like Russian roulette,” Fignon told Reuters. “You do not know what you will be getting.”
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Similar shortages are cropping up elsewhere in Europe, complicating a stuttering start to vaccination efforts that have been compounded by warnings from Pfizer and AstraZeneca, its Anglo-Swedish peer, that they will not be able to meet vaccine supply commitments in the near term.
Pfizer now forecasts it will produce 2 billion doses this year, but this assumes it will be possible to extract the full six from each vial. It charges by the dose, meaning the cost of a vial has gone up 20%.
The European Commission is pressing Pfizer and German partner BioNTech to deliver more of the low-dead-space needles to extract the extra dose.
BioNTech says it has procured 50 million needles that it can sell at cost to countries around the world, and is seeking to buy more. That compares with the EU’s order of up to 600 million doses of its vaccine.
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Industry executives say that, while output of needles and syringes is sufficient to meet current demand, chaotic ordering means that they often do not get to where they are most urgently needed. Work is under way to assess future demand and find ways to meet it, they say.
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