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Syringe Shortage Threatens Pfizer Use in COVID-19 Vaccination Campaigns

According to the World Health Organisation, reports from the United Nations Children International Fund indicate a 2.2 billion shortfall of syringes for different volumes. One of the affected volumes is the 0.3 ml auto-disposable syringes that are needed for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination.
African countries using Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines might have to suspend vaccination due to syringe shortfalls.

According to the World Health Organisation, reports from the United Nations Children International Fund indicate a 2.2 billion shortfall of syringes for different volumes. One of the affected volumes is the 0.3 ml auto-disposable syringes that are needed for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination.

Already some African countries have been affected by this, and last month Kenya was forced to suspend vaccination using Pfizer due to a lack of syringes. Shortages have also been reported in Rwanda and South Africa. 

The WHO Africa region director, Dr Matshidiso Moeti says drastic measures are needed to boost syringe production. She says a scarcity of syringes will paralyze COVID-19 vaccination on the continent that was expected to pick up.

“The looming threat of a vaccine commodities crisis hangs over the continent," said Dr Moeti. "Early next year COVID-19 vaccines will start pouring into Africa, but a scarcity of syringes could paralyze progress. Drastic measures must be taken to boost syringe production, fast. Countless African lives depend on it.”

There is no global stockpile of the 0.3ml specialized syringes, which differ from the 0.5ml syringes used for other types of COVID-19 vaccines and routine vaccination. The market for 0.3ml auto-disposable syringes is tight and extremely competitive. As such, these are in short supply and will remain so through at least the first quarter of next year. 

According to WHO, the COVAX Facility is working to address this threat by securing deals with syringe manufacturers, and through better planning to avoid deliveries outpacing the supply of syringes.

The impending shortfall of syringes comes at a time when Africa is experiencing an increase in the number of COVID-19 vaccines available.  Data from WHO shows that in October to date, around 50 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have arrived which is almost double what was shipped in September.

However, at the current pace, Africa still faces a 275 million shortfall of COVID-19 vaccines against the year-end target of fully vaccinating 40 per cent of its people. Africa has fully vaccinated 77 million people, just 6 per cent of its population. In comparison, over 70 per cent of high-income countries have already vaccinated more than 40 per cent of their people.

WHO says that many countries need to improve their readiness for COVID-19 vaccine rollouts. 42 per cent of countries in the African region have not yet completed district-level plans for their campaigns, while nearly 40 per cent have not yet undertaken intra-action reviews which are key to refining and improving their vaccination campaigns.

“In Africa, planning must become much more granular," Dr Moeti said. "This way we can spot challenges before they arise and nip any problems in the bud. WHO is supporting African countries in developing, improving and implementing their National Vaccine Deployment Plans and continually refining their COVID-19 vaccine rollouts as they proceed.”

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