TOKYO (Reuters) – Fear is growing in Japan, where an inoculation drive against COVID-19 starts on Wednesday that millions of doses of Pfizer vaccine could be wasted due to the lack of special syringes that maximize the number of shots used from each vial.
The government has made urgent requests, but producers are struggling to increase production quickly enough, creating the latest headache for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who suffers from weak public support.
“We are still trying to secure these special syringes,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said on Tuesday.
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.
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. .
When asked last week, Kato did not directly answer whether the lack of the ideal syringe meant that the number of shots that Japan can administer would be reduced, but on Tuesday he admitted that without it there would be a spill.
“When it comes to what’s left in vials and syringes, the unused will be disposed of,” Kato said.
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 Japan’s population is a top priority for Suga’s government, as he is determined to hold the Olympics in Tokyo 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 from Ritsuko Ando; Clip by Simon Cameron-Moore
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