TOKYO, Feb. 16 (Reuters) – Japan is struggling to secure special syringes to maximize the number of COVID-19 vaccine shots used from each vial, but manufacturers are struggling to increase production rapidly, fearing that millions of doses can be wasted.
Japan, with a population of 126 million, last month signed a contract with Pfizer Inc to provide 144 million doses of its vaccine, or enough for 72 million people, with the vaccination campaign set to begin on Wednesday.
A vial is designed for six shots, says Pfizer, but it requires special syringes that retain a low-volume solution after an injection to extract six doses, while only five shots can be taken with standard syringes that the government has kept in preparation for the inoculation drive. .
“We are still trying to secure these special syringes,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said on Tuesday.
He did not directly answer questions when asked last week whether the shortage meant the number of shots Japan could administer would be reduced.
Both a spokeswoman for Pfizer Japan and a Japanese Ministry of Health official declined to say whether the contract to supply Japan with 144 million doses of vaccine at the end of the year is based on taking six doses from each vial.
Inoculation of its population is a top priority for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government as he is determined to host the Tokyo Olympics this summer after the Games were postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In an effort to minimize the amount of vaccine unused in syringes and vials, the government is asking medical device manufacturers to increase production of the low-syringe syringes, but there is doubt that this can be done quickly enough. .
Nipro Corp., which operates a Thailand plant that can produce 500,000 units a month, said it planned to increase its monthly capacity to a few million, but that it would take up to five months to reach that goal.
“We are receiving a request from the Ministry of Health, and we need to take some steps. But that’s not something we can do overnight. It is another four to five months before we can run strong, ”said a spokeswoman from Nipro.
Another major Japanese medical device maker Terumo Corp. said it had begun developing syringes suitable for extracting six doses from a vial, but that it was too early to say when it could start commercial production.
Although daily cases have been declining in recent weeks in Japan after peaking in early January, Tokyo and nine other prefectures are still under coronavirus state of emergency.
Japan has seen cases totaling around 418,000 with 7,042 deaths, according to public television station NHK. (Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Additional Reporting by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
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