TOKYO (JAPAN) – Japan is struggling to secure special syringes to maximise the number of COVID-19 vaccine shots used from each vial. However manufacturers are unable to ramp up production quickly. With vaccination campaign set to start on Wednesday, lack of syringes has raised fear that millions of doses could go waste.
Japan had signed a contract with Pfizer Inc last month to procure 144 million doses of its vaccine, or enough for 72 million people.
Only five shots can be taken with standard syringes that the government has stored up in preparation for the inoculation drive. According to Pfizer, one vial is meant for six shots, but it takes special syringes that retain a low volume of solution after an injection to extract six doses.
“We are still trying to secure these special syringes,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said on Tuesday.
In an effort to minimize the amount of vaccine left unused in syringes and vials, the government is asking medical equipment manufacturers to boost output of the low dead-space syringes, but there are doubts whether that can be done quickly enough.
Nipro Corp, which runs a Thailand plant capable of making 500,000 units a month, said it planned to push its monthly capacity to a few million, but that it would take up to five months to reach that goal.
“We are getting a request from the health ministry and we need to take some steps. But it’s not something we can do overnight. It’s another four to five months before we can ramp up sharply,” a Nipro spokeswoman said.
Another major Japanese medical gear maker Terumo Corp said it had started developing syringes fit for extracting six doses from a vial, but that it was too early to say when it can start commercial output.
Japan has seen cases total around 418,000, with 7,042 deaths, according to public broadcaster NHK.