PARIS / BERLIN (Reuters) – Laurent Fignon, a geriatric doctor in southern France, had to improvise while administering Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine shots to orphanage residents and health workers because of the proper supply of syringes. and a short syringe.
Getting six full doses from a Pfizer / BioNTech syringe – as permitted this month by European Union health regulators – requires a needle thin enough to minimize waste and long enough to deliver the injection, as needed, to the recipient’s shoulder muscle.
Fignon hospital in the Mediterranean resort of Cannes was sent syringes from French public health authorities that were too short, he said, forcing him to hunt for supplies locally. Other nearby hospitals got proper syringes and were generous enough to share several.
“For us, it is like Russian roulette,” Fignon told Reuters. “You don’t know what you will get.”
Similar shortcomings emerged elsewhere in Europe, complicating the stuttering beginnings of vaccination efforts that have been exacerbated by warnings from Pfizer and AstraZeneca, its Anglo-Swedish partner, that they will not be able to meet vaccine supply commitments any time soon.
Pfizer now predicts it will produce 2 billion doses this year, but this assumes that it will be possible to extract the full six from each bottle. It fills on a dose basis, meaning the cost of the bottle has gone up by 20%.
The European Commission is urging Pfizer and German partner BioNTech to provide more low dead space needles to extract extra doses.
BioNTech says it has purchased 50 million marketable needles to countries around the world, and is working to buy more. That compares with the EU order for up to 600 million doses of its vaccine.
Industry executives say that, while the yield of syringes is sufficient to meet current demand, chaotic ordering means they often don’t reach where they need it most. Work is underway to assess future demand and find ways to meet it, they said.
In Germany, vaccine distribution is handled by the central government but 16 federal states are responsible for obtaining the syringes needed to inject them – with mixed results.
Some, like Baden-Wuerttemberg and Thuringia, have had the luck of ordering the right needles and syringes early on. But others, including Bavaria, Saarland and Lower Saxony, did not and had to carry out follow-up orders, officials said.
Saxony, on the Czech border, also has to shop as scarce supplies push prices up, said Lars Werthmann, regional head of vaccine logistics at the German Red Cross.
“We can’t miss a single dose at this point. And we cannot justify failure for a 5 cent syringe, “Werthmann told Reuters.
Europe’s leading injection equipment manufacturer, a private German company called B.Braun, said it was facing increased demand for syringes and other products needed for vaccination.
“With our competitors, we are currently able to meet all the demands regarding the products required for vaccination,” said spokeswoman Christine Bossek. “We are working on solutions in parallel to ensure that this will also happen in the future.”
The German medical technology industry association, BVMed, said there were no production barriers and the supply of syringes and syringes was sufficient. But chaotic orders make distribution difficult, he added, calling for better coordination.
Switzerland has ordered so-called “firing equipment” to deliver five doses per bottle. With six now permitted, it is in talks with Pfizer to supply the equipment needed to withdraw those doses, the Federal Office of Public Health said.
Officials in the UK, which have started vaccination efforts earlier, say the health team is equipped with the right injection equipment.
Back in Cannes, Fignon says he and his colleagues have managed to extract six doses from a Pfizer bottle but this will not last unless doctors get the equipment they need.
“Some countries have the right equipment from the start; we are not here in France, “he said. The French health ministry has acknowledged that extracting the sixth dose is challenging and requires specialized equipment. It said it was in the process of making sure the right syringe reached the doctor.
In addition to BioNTech’s pledge to supply syringes at a cost, Pfizer said it was in discussions with the European Commission and EU governments about their vaccination plans, including “supporting governments in securing a low supply of dead space syringes if they need them”.
Additional reporting by John Miller in Zurich, Francesco Guarascio in Brussels, Alistair Smout in London and Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt; Written by Douglas Busvine; Edited by Nick Macfie